By Ben Stanley
In cricket, there are four key principles to batting: balance, footwork, rhythm and trusting your instincts. To combine them all, Mark Greatbatch believes , is about being, feeling, as natural as possible at the crease.
To bat well is to be yourself - to be a true representative of your personal blend of flair and determination. For as long as your innings lasts, and for however many runs - for often runs are not the pursuit, time really is - it is your way to win your way and not theirs. It is to play cricket like your heroes did when you were a kid.
A belligerent figure on and off the pitch, Greatbatch was an enigma for those of us who grew up as a Kiwi cricket fan in the late 80s and early 90s. As a kid, I saw batting as a pure dichotomy; either you attacked the bowlers or you defended against them. There was room for both, but every batsman had a factory setting.
During his rollercoaster career, 'Batchy' presented us with both potential approaches. At the 1992 World Cup, he was unveiled as the ultimate pinch hitter, opening the one-day innings in a way that would change the short-form cricket for good. He was a devil-may-care, six or out bat who relished the showdown with quicks like Merv Hughes, Allan Donald, Waqar Younis or Curtly Ambrose.
Yet less than three years before, Greatbatch had shown the other side of the same coin when he batted for nearly 14 hours at the WACA in an innings that personified a gritty, increasingly romantic era.
Back then, Kiwis required the same sort of guts that the likes of Mantis, Hogan, Chopper, Wrighty and Sneds showed to get through a decade of significant sporting, cultural, economic and political change.
New Zealand's one-off test draw with a rampant Australian side in Perth in November 1989 provided cricket's perfect parting gesture for it all. Greatbatch's unbeaten 146 in the second innings was at its very heart.
"I think it really stands out in terms of the 1980s as being the best save we made - and we made quite a lot of saves in that time," Martin Snedden told me recently, reflecting on the match.
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"I think it epitomised our attitude of not lying down. That's what kept us going. In terms of skill levels, apart from Hadlee and Crowe, and [John] Wright, we weren't up there with the [Black Caps] now."
Greatbatch - then a 25-year-old Aucklander playing for Central Districts with just six tests under his belt - was on the pitch, on that Fatal Shore, for all but 70 minutes of the test's five hot days. His second innings knock saw him face 485 deliveries over 655 minutes, a knock 88 minutes longer than Ross Taylor's 290 at the same ground in 2015.
For context, BJ Watling's 205 in Tauranga saw the stoic Kiwi keeper bat 12 minutes more and faced 12 fewer balls. Though his knock laid the foundation for potential victory, Greatbatch's saved a test. Retold nearly 30 years to the day, this is the story of how Mark Greatbatch played, just maybe, the innings of a generation.
Andrew Jones, the usual first drop, had injured a finger in a warm-up game in Adelaide, pushing Greatbatch up to three. New Zealand were also missing the class of Sir Richard Hadlee (Achilles strain) and reliability of John Bracewell (finger), leaving Danny Morrison to lead an under-powered seam attack. He was assisted by Willie Watson, medium-pacer Snedden and a 19-year-old Chris Cairns on test debut. Dipak Patel provided a spin option, while Wright and the Crowe brothers held together a transitioning top order.
Meanwhile, Alan Border's Australians were on a high, having reclaimed the Ashes for the first time since 1983, less than three months before. With a fearsome four-pronged seam attack of Geoff Lawson, Terry Alderman, Carl Rackemann and Merv Hughes, they had destroyed their hosts 4-0.
With a typically hard Perth deck, the quartet returned for the Kiwi clash while Border, David Boon, Dean Jones, Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor gave Australia a batting spine that would provide the foundation for their coming international dominance.
Despite the squad discrepancies, there's something in a cricket test between New Zealand and Australia. We have three this summer, including the Black Caps' first appearance in a Boxing Day test at the MCG since 1987. Beyond even individual match-ups, it's hard to see how the series won't produce some great cricket.
"Mate, if New Zealand played with the attitude they play against Australia, against all other countries, they'd almost be number one, I reckon," Hughes, who shared a fierce rivalry with Greatbatch, says over the phone.
"They're just up for the fight against the Australians. They're ready to cop it, they're prepared to give it. Some of the toughest games I played were against New Zealand and that Perth test match is an obvious example."
After being sent in to bat, Australia compiled a towering 521/9 declared with Boon the star with a virtually forgotten 200. The Kiwi bowlers struggled, though Snedden, showing a veteran's leadership in a young attack, claiming 4/108 off 42 overs.
New Zealand never got out of second gear in reply, managing only 231 all out by the start of Day Four. Greatbatch crafted a fine 76 (139 balls, 221 minutes) while Martin Crowe battled to 62. Hughes took four, including Greatbatch with an edge to wicketkeeper Ian Healy, and Alderman three.
The paltry total meant the Kiwis were following on, 290 runs behind on a rock-hard deck. Snedden - a former New Zealand Cricket chief executive and current board member - recalls Wright raining thunder in the sheds before the second dig began, but heads must've gone down when he edged the ball to Border inside the first half-hour.
After familiarising himself with the pitch during his impressive first-innings knock, Greatbatch walked to the middle with time off his radar. With the best part of five sessions, it was a chasm. There was no point worrying about it, he told himself; just keep things basic. He removed the cut from his arsenal of shots and was content to either play it straight or trust the bounce and leave the ball.
"I thought if I could leave well, play what I need to play and play straight, I'd be okay," Greatbatch says. "You got rewarded playing straight there because there's a little bit of a slope on the ground, beautiful outfield [too].
"If you played straight, and it was full, you got rewarded. It just reduced the percentages, really, of getting out, which was the goal being so far behind. I was just trying to keep it simple."
Wickets fell, but the Crowe brothers stuck around. At stumps on day four, New Zealand were 168/4 with Greatbatch 69 not out and Jeff Crowe unbeaten on 42. Martin Crowe had hung in for nearly two hours and 30 runs, earlier in the afternoon but the Kiwis were still 122 runs behind.
Greatbatch closed the fourth day and began the last as he had during every day of the test. The evening would deliver two pints of Guinness at an Irish bar across the road from the Kiwi hotel, before morning would bring a swim in the pool, a cup of tea and the morning paper delivered by his non-playing roommate Brendon Bracewell.
Bracewell - a former test representative then playing rugby in Western Australia - and Greatbatch would get the nets an hour before everyone else. Greatbatch remembers Bracewell, who'd played his first test when Greatbatch was just 14, bouncing and sledging the hell out of him.
"He said 'this is what you're going to get, Batchy'," Greatbatch, now 55, says. "I'm forever grateful to him for that, because that was obviously cracking great prep for what was to come."
Though he'd later require John Bracewell's pants to bat in before lunch because he forgot his own, Tuesday, November 28 started the same for Greatbatch. His father Owen had a fixed routine, too. A 57-year-old property manager originally from Hokitika, Owen didn't travel with the New Zealand team often but had come across with his mate Dave Crowe, who also had skin in the game.
"I do recall them walking around at the WACA over five days," his son says. "There were lots of little bars and TABs. You'd see them having a fag and watching in the corner, in the shade. They were pretty steadfast for five days."
Hughes removed Crowe leg-before early in the session and set up a hat-trick after Ian Smith nicked one to Border. Cairns, in his first test, battled with Greatbatch for 93 minutes before being dismissed for 28 just after lunch. With Morrison and Watson, two renowned bunnies, in the sheds, New Zealand were 234/7 and still 56 runs short. Realistically, Greatbatch and the newly arrived Snedden were New Zealand's real last hopes.
Both on and off the pitch, Snedden had an eventful few days. His daughter Stephanie was born in Auckland on the second, before he and Big Merv celebrated a shared birthday on the third. Snedden bowled well and managed an unbeaten 13 in the first innings, but thought that two sessions against Hughes, Lawson, Rackemann and Alderman was probably too big of an ask.
"I didn't give us a hell of a lot of a chance when I went out to bat," Snedden says. "[But] at the other end, Batch was just going on and on and on. There was nothing flashy about it, he was just incredibly disciplined."
Though both were copping an absolute torrent of sledging from the Australians, Snedden remembers his batting partner, who'd usually give a bit of lip back, ignoring the noise. He recalls Batchy talking himself through the innings, sometimes loud enough for him to hear at the other end.
The fielders came in, the run rate ground right down and Border kept throwing the ball to the quicks. There was no let-up, with hard, short deliveries the order of the afternoon.
Greatbatch and Snedden dug a trench in the middle of the WACA, and hung in. They'd compare notes about changes to the field, and who was going over or around the wicket, but their overly chats were brief. They set small goals. Get through this over, get through the next 15 minutes. Get through to tea.
Chances were few for the Australians, but they came from Snedden. He recalls edging one between the keeper and first slip, and a bump-ball catch by Boon that was initially given by the umpire before the Australians admitted it hadn't carried.
Greatbatch battled on, making his century with two runs past mid-on. Outside a leg-before shout and tight single in the next two balls, Greatbatch took everything the Aussies threw his way. Watch the ball, he told himself before each delivery. Watch the ball.
"We locked horns a few times, didn't we?" Hughes, who finished 92/3 off his 36 overs, says of Greatbatch, as a competitor.
"To play against him, he was like a bull in a china shop. He just kept pushing forward, didn't take any backwards steps and wasn't intimidated. The harder you went at him, the harder he came back at us.
"Anyone in that situation wants to save the game for their country, and he certainly did that where others, and probably more notable players, fell around him, he just hung in there and batted well with the tale for a long time to ensure the draw."
After a tense final session that saw New Zealand edge 32 runs ahead with stumps looming, Border raised the white flag. There was no time left to chase, and they couldn't get Greatbatch or Snedden, whose 33 came of 142 balls and 202 minutes, out. Both innings would remain personal test high scores for the pair.
The Australians bowled 64 maidens in the 162-over innings, with Rackemann ending with the astonishing figures of 1/23 off 31.
"Sneds and I just came together and we were just 'we survived them'," Greatbatch says. "It looked a long way away [at the beginning]. We were just relieved and exhausted."
"In our dressing room, it felt like we'd won the test," Snedden adds. "We'd come from nowhere and we'd salvaged the thing."
With the Australians joining the Kiwis for a post-match assessment, the two Guinness quota from earlier in the test was broken. Thirty years later, Greatbatch fondly recalls talking cricket with Border and Australian coach Bob Simpson that night in the sheds.
Yet there is rent to be collected for the occupation of any great moment in sport, or life. In a domestic clash a week later at Eden Park, Snedden had Greatbatch trapped in front early. He had nothing left in the tank.
"I was exhausted, absolutely exhausted," Greatbatch - who, to this day, pays tribute to the Crowe brothers, Cairns and Snedden for hanging in with him - says.
"It was taxing. Over my career, as far as the test side is concerned, [it] was probably my best alongside a century against Wasim [Akram] and Waqar [Younis] at Hamilton [in 1993]. I found it hard to do again, consistently. That was my career, I suppose."
Before his last test appearance in 1996, Greatbatch would struggle against Australia in his other seven clashes with them - but ended with 2021 runs at 30.62 in his 41-test tenure. His bat from Perth, a Stuart Surridge, is today held by Cornwall Cricket Club in Hastings.
Though his father Owen died in 2011, Greatbatch's mother Elizabeth is now 91 and living in Auckland.
"Any mental toughness I have I got from my mother, so she can be attributed to that innings," he says.
A former national coach and Cricket Academy NZ founder, Greatbatch now runs the cricket programme at Saint Kentigern College in Auckland. He teaches his students the same principles that guided him in Perth: balance, footwork, rhythm and trusting your instincts.
Watch the ball. Be natural. Set small targets. Enjoy your cricket.
Hang around for long enough with good people around you. Even the biggest, most difficult problems can be tackled.