Martin Crowe, a fantastic batsman from New Zealand and famous for his out-of-the-box captaincy, passed away on Thursday (March 3). It was a big shock for the cricketing world and tributes came pouring in for him, who lost a battle against cancer at just 53.
For today's cricket buffs, Crowe is not a player who can be identified with in this cricket-busy era. He had quit cricket in 1995, when the game was yet not as colourful and noisy at it is today. But still, we did not forget the name because of his lasting legacy.
Crowe was famous during 1992 World Cup
Our generation was introduced to Crowe in the 1992 World Cup which was held in Australia and New Zealand. It was an attractive tournament---thanks to coloured dresses, day-night matches, presence of talents like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Jonty Rhodes, Inzamam-ul-Haq and many others and of course Martin Crowe's captaincy which was just brilliant.
Crowe's side, one of the co-hosts of the tournament, had never been a serious contender for the World Cup till then and started as underdogs in that World Cup as well. But when they pulled off a 37-run win over trans-Tasman rivals and reigning champions Australia in the very first match of that edition, the world started looking at New Zealand with curious eyes.
Crowe led not just with the bat but also with his cricketing brain
Crowe had led the side not only with the bat in that World Cup (he was the highest scorer in that edition with 456 runs and was adjudged the man of the match) but also with his cricketing brain. Two of the biggest influences that Crowe's captaincy have on cricket till today were first acknowledged in the 1992 World Cup.
Opening bowling with spinner Dipak Patel
The first was opening the bowling with a spinner. Crowe had tossed the ball to Kenya-born Dipak Patel in the opening match against a mighty Australia and against the popular assumption that he would be caned, Patel conceded just 36 runs off his 10 overs and took the wicket of Allan Border.
The victory gave Crowe the confidence (he himself had also scored an unbeaten 100 in that match) to stick to his strategy and Patel didn't disappoint him. Even the Indians, known for their spin-playing ability, couldn't take more than 29 runs against Patel and also lost two wickets to him in their match against New Zealand in that Benson & Hedges World Cup.
Asking Mark Greatbatch to open the batting--another masterstroke
The other innovation that Crowe brought into play was asking the flambuoyant Mark Greatbatch to open the batting. The left-hander hit 68 off 60 balls against a powerful South African attack in the very first match that he played in the tournament and went on repeating it on a number of occasions.
The Greatbatch effect during the fielders'-restriction phase proved to be extremely effective for the Kiwis and none except Pakistan could stop them in that tournament.
A dream that saw a sudden death---23 years before McCullum took NZ to the finals
Crowe had given his side such a momentum in that tournament that experts were compelled to replace Australia with New Zealand as the favourites to win the trophy in the middle of the tournament.
Early exits of Australia and West Indies and an ordinary-looking Pakistan till the semifinals made New Zealand a strong favourite but Inzamam-ul-Haq's 37-ball-60 shattered the Kiwis' dreams in the semifinal. An injured Crowe got run out at 93 as Greatbatch, who was running for him got dismissed, and could not take the field in the second half, a fact that his team rued as they lost, seeing an abrupt end to the fairy tale that Crowe had begun for them.
Crowe's feat remained the most cherished one in the history of New Zealand cricket till 2015 when Brendon McCullum led them to the final of the World Cup but lost to Australia.