A complicated colossus of Kiwi cricket
"I lived my life in a private struggle in my mind."
--Martin Crowe, June 2013
I loved Martin Crowe as a kid. I had his statistics as my EFTPOS card pin number for years. I have a framed print of Dick Frizzell's wonderful portrait of him batting at Lord's in my man cave. I love his passion for the game, and I regard him as a fantastic innovator and one of the sport's pre-eminent thinkers. We also agree that the New Zealand cricket team should be called the New Zealand cricket team - I liked it when he wrote: "Calling our national cricket team the Black Caps is plain awful."
But I don't always agree with him. We'd be terrible flatmates. I'd hate to bowl at him in the nets. He makes me roll my eyes and (cheap shot warning) want to tear my hair out with his melodrama at times, but he makes cricket more interesting.
The gig was unabashedly to promote Crowe's memoir, entitled Raw, a 300-page tome that is not about beef tartare, uncooked fish, professional wrestling or open-heart surgery. Raw is about his inner and outer turmoil as he wrestles the onset of lymphatic cancer and the inability to keep his concerns about cricket in perspective.
The room was rife with eighties and nineties players - Chats Chatfield, Sneds Snedden and Peaches Petrie were all within spitting distance of our spot in the room. Left-arm tweaker Evan Gray introduced Crowe, who later reminded us he'd been the catcher when Gray had snaffled his first Test wicket. It was David Gower off an inside edge, and Crowe confessed that the one-handed screamer snare "may have bounced".
The oddest parts of the evening were when Bryan Waddle took the microphone as Crowe's "interviewer", lobbing in a mixture of patsy and non-patsy questions, gushing praise, and anecdotes about St Lucian potato-eating and building a century "out of anger".
The accomplished and long-serving ball-by-ball radio commentator intervened with thinly veiled swipes at contemporary players, but an air of resentment underpinned several of his comments. Waddle's objectivity was clearly left angle-parked out on Allen Street.
Waddle quoted Brendon McCullum's line from 2011 when the batsman-keeper claimed the New Zealand players stopped listening to Martin Crowe "years ago". The irony of course is that in the pages of Raw, Crowe provides us with honest insight into why the shutters may have come down: "Anyone who criticised or questioned my motives or personality was the enemy," he writes. "[I] became a resentful man, a man who harboured grudges. [I] became the world record-holder for grievances."
Crowe in person seemed much more laidback than he comes across in much of the book. He talked about raccoons in his top drawer and Jeremy Coney's penchant for dyed hair. Contrast this with Raw's pages on work and cricket, where barely a chapter goes by without Crowe criticising an administrator, a team-mate, a player or a co-worker. It makes for interesting reading, but it would also be fascinating to hear the other side of these stories.
Crowe's time at Sky is laid bare, including his redundancy in 2012. One peculiar tale reminds us of Crowe's fragility and quirky approach to relationship-building as he seeks to break the ice with the chief executive of the pay TV network, wandering into John Fellet's office with a Pepsi Max, "looking for a fun chat about baseball or basketball, or giving him interesting books about baseball legends… Chats lasted a few minutes, but I always sensed he had better things to do."
I was sad to hear Crowe say he couldn't stay involved in cricket. He said that for the sake of his health, he couldn't afford to care about it anymore. I think he cared too much. Perhaps one day he will find a happy place somewhere between cricketing cold turkey and being on the front page of the Sunday Star-Times lambasting someone or other. I hope so.
Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here