Key Points:

On his first day at Auckland Grammar, that bastion of New Zealand state education, MD Crowe found himself sitting next to GJ Fox.

"It seemed like we were on a chosen path, almost from day one," says Martin Crowe, of the sporting expectations placed on their young shoulders. "Here was this kid from Titirangi next to this kid from Putaruru and we were being told it was not if but when, and how many. That's what was instilled in us.

"Though I have to say Foxy coped with it a lot better than I did."

You could call them the chosen ones and it's a subject that clearly fascinates Crowe. After coming to the realisation that his absurdly quick elevation from being a typical kid growing up in Auckland's sprawling suburbs to cricket superstar held as many pitfalls as it did benefits, Crowe has sought the stories of others whose path seemed preordained.

This was no voyage of self-discovery, he'd already done all that, but a genuine interest in the lives of other sporting figures that was ignited by Michael Campbell's victory in the US Open at Pinehurst.

Crowe was in rapt attendance and once home got good friend, fellow broadcaster and former team-mate Ian Smith to do an extended interview with Campbell at his Titahi Bay roots. Producer Ian John "fine-tuned" the product and The Chosen One aired.

The feedback Crowe received from the public and from Campbell prompted him to seek other stories for a series beginning this week on Sky.

He has assembled an eclectic mix of sporting figures and talks about their stories with passion.

Netballer Irene van Dyk, a South African, and US-native Tab Baldwin are fascinating, he says, because they took this huge risk of chasing their dreams miles from their homes and comfort zones.

There's Brian Lochore who, in some form or other, has been involved in five decades of All Black rugby.

Steve Williams was a kid who grew up with a dream to be an All Black, whose passion was dirt racing and who is now the most famous caddie on the globe and confidante to the world's greatest golfer, Tiger Woods.

There's Tawera Nikau's story, much of it well documented by now.

Crowe was on hand to witness Chris Cairns falling into a black hole, and was an interested observer as he climbed his way out. "For six years he was a walking disaster. He was picked too early, had to cope with tragedy when his sister died, yet his last nine years were extraordinary really."

The jewel in the crown, though, is the John Walker interview that Crowe confidently announces is the "best interview Smithy has ever done".

Walker, of course, is involved in a battle with Parkinson's disease that is far removed from anything he was involved in on the track but talks, Crowe says, with a singular clarity about the power of the black singlet in the lead-up to the 1976 Olympic 1500m final.

Over a coffee in his uptown apartment where, on this morning, his 3-year-old daughter Emma rules the roost, Crowe is engaging company as he relates various vignettes from these eight stories.

When originally approached for the interview Crowe said, politely but pointedly, that he didn't want to talk about cricket. "That's OK," I said, "I want to talk about you." Crowe laughed and said he didn't really want to talk about that either.

But it is inevitable that the stories he's relating will at some point collide with his own experiences and when they do he is disarmingly frank.

It's Danyon Loader who provides a near mirror image. "When he was 13 or 14 he was given a script that said he was going to be New Zealand's greatest swimmer," Crowe says.

"He ended up losing half his life looking at the bottom of a pool, became misunderstood and even now is still trying to find himself."

What Crowe didn't say, but could have, was "snap".

"From the age of 14 when I was picked for the Auckland under-23 side and then as 12th man for a Shell Trophy [New Zealand's first-class domestic cricket competition] final," Crowe recalls, "I was basically given a script that was way beyond my years.

"Emotionally I was totally unprepared and ever since, I've always been playing catch-up with that emotional stability," he says. Rather than this coming to him as an epiphany, it was a realisation over a few years that cricket had become all-consuming.

"All I kept feeding was an ego."

It must be tough reconciling that with what is arguably the most impressive body of work any New Zealand batsman has compiled.

He has the most test centuries (17) for New Zealand, the highest test score (299) and his average of 45.36 is outstanding given he played in an era when New Zealand wickets were difficult and he had such a shocking start to his career - more on that later.

While it was a privilege to play for New Zealand, he says he should have given it away much earlier than when he finally pulled up stumps at the comparatively young age of 33.

He went on the marijuana-scented 1994 tour of South Africa with a busted knee and false motivation, solely because until then he had scored a century against every other test-playing nation.

"The lure of this insignificant goal kept me on. But I wasn't doing anyone any good, not myself, not the team."

He was 31 at the end of a personally triumphant 1994 England tour. He was playing with a brace on his knee and says he should have walked away but: "I was continuing to read a script."

He was being painted more and more by the media as a complex personality, a "tortured genius". He had well-documented relationship breakdowns over the years with team-mates and coaches, most notably Geoff Howarth and Ken Rutherford.

I ask Crowe if he now has regrets, and for the first time he is a little cryptic. "I've become pretty good at learning through mistakes," he says. "The cricket mistakes were obvious..."

Over the past few years Crowe has worked as executive producer of cricket at Sky and was part of the commentary team.

Last year, after the break-up of his relationship with Emma's mother Suzanne - he had been previously been in a high-profile marriage to Simone - Crowe pulled himself out of the commentary team and stopped using cricket "as a crutch".

In an endeavour to find something he lost at 14, the 44-year-old took himself "to the beach" for the first time in 30 years. "I lay down and asked myself why everything in my life kept falling over."

What he discovered was that his life had always been at least three years "out of whack".

Everything about his career had been premature. Picked too young for the under-23s, he got "blown away". Picked too young for New Zealand, he faced Australia's feared pace duo Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

The only thing he learned as a 19-year-old in that series, he says, was "fear and humiliation".

As a kid, Crowe remembers seeing Bert Sutcliffe, head swathed in bandages going out to bat on a dangerous wicket in Johannesburg in 1953. That was what made him want to wear the silver fern.

However, when Jeff Thomson knocked his helmet off in that test series, he felt anything but heroic.

The Australians felt his pain more acutely than his team-mates.

He remembers the look of sympathy and encouragement on Bruce Laird's face when he handed him back his helmet.

He recalls wicketkeeper Rod Marsh trying to make light of it. "He said something like 'those helmets are f---ing loud, aren't they?' to try to lighten the mood."

In that series when he edged one off Lillee, did the sporting thing and promptly walked, he learned another lesson as Lillee said: "Well done but don't ever f---ing do that again."

"The Aussies were amazing to me," he says fondly. He didn't find the same nurturing in his own dressing shed but doesn't blame anyone these days. Cricket seems to bring out the selfishness in individuals more than any other team sport - this is my observation after covering the game for more than 10 years.

"In terms of my emotional development I was always three years out of my depth and I've had issues throughout my career with it," he says.

He's still cricket EP at Sky, though doesn't want to be doing it for the rest of his life.

He has a new muse now in South Sydney league club where his cousin and part-owner Russell Crowe put him on the board.

"Six months ago they were a rabble," Crowe says. "I've never seen anything so unprofessional in my life. But there's a lot of history at that place and people don't want to see it die."

And there's Emma, who Crowe clearly dotes on.

He gets more of a kick, you suspect, from the fact she can now reach the Floor 10 button on the lift to his apartment than he does from watching another one-day international.

This Chosen One seems to have found his path through life.