Two Chris Martin stories
"Cricket was a once-a-week thing that I did hungover on a Saturday for St Albans."
-- Chris Martin, North & South, March 2012
As I was chomping on Wednesday's dinner of edamame beans and duck risotto, I spotted my Beige Brigade cohort Mike Lane under-dressed on 3 News, telling Huw Beynon that Chris Martin would be missed, and that he loved him for being the bloke who batted No. 11 in a team of No. 11s.
It was a good call - he is the only Test cricketer I've ever come across who batted last man Jack at every level of cricket that he played: international, domestic and for his club. Probably at backyard level too.
Chris Martin made a spectator sport out of presenting a gap between bat and pad that you could drive a Kenworth truck through. That weakness - attributed to genetics rather than lack of effort - combined with his skills as a bounding bowler and carved him out his very own cult-hero status.
It's been said before that cult heroes aren't born with a cape of coolness, but emerge out of romanticism and sentimentality from cricket fans. Martin was never the best player in the team on paper - that was normally Chris Cairns or Daniel Vettori or Ross Taylor. His appeal stemmed from his otherness - his unconventional big-jumping bowling approach, his melee of hairdos, an unpredictable sound byte in an interview, and that blink-and-you'll-miss-it batting.
I haven't gathered an arsenal of statistics for you to pore over (S Rajesh has that all covered with his abacus of power over here) but I have a couple of memories to share.
The first is from early this century, when Trevor Madondo walked the earth, and Zimbabwe was playing New Zealand in Wellington in the rare air of a Boxing Day Test in New Zealand. It was Martin's fourth Test, and he had a good mane of hair hiding under his traditional wide-brimmed hat. Earlier in the Test match, Mike had taken a stonking catch on the embankment from a fierce Nathan Astle pull shot to win $500 and set us up for a profligate New Year's Eve.
As the Test meandered to a weather-affected close on the fifth day, Gavin Rennie spooned one to mid-off from leggie Brooke Walker, who'd toiled away for 30 overs in the match without reward. Beneath the descending leather was Chris Martin, who made an absolute meal of the attempted catch, almost sustaining a concussion as the ball bounced off his knuckle and onto the grass.
Unbeknownst to us, Sky TV's coverage showed a split screen soon after, juxtaposing the crowd catch with Martin's on-field effort. As Ian Smith explained helpfully from his commentary seat: "Here's the catching of the two players: one's a club player on the left, one's a Test player on the right. And the end result is slightly different as well - and the celebration!"
The epilogue came later that night at Vespa, an open-late bar in town that was the unofficial Beige Brigade clubrooms back in the day. Tucked up in the corner was none other than Tommy Martin, playing pool and kicking back after a tedious Test-match draw. He spotted us and we bowled over to say gudday, apologised for showing him up in the field, asked him if it was true he sometimes cycled to cricket training with his cricket coffin on the back, and bought him a drink. Apart from an initial "You bastard!" comment to Mike, he couldn't have been more polite. Even early in his Test career he sported a wry smile, and was a damn good sport.
The second is a great little anecdote in Margot Butcher's cracking profile piece "Swing Shift" (published in North & South last year) about Martin's debut knock in Test cricket. Having had a quiet cigarette under the stands, he was summoned to the crease in a petrified state to face his idol, Allan Donald. "White Lightning" had just dismissed Shayne O'Connor to become the first Saffer to 300 Test wickets.
Martin explained the state of play: "They'd just let off all these cannons. I was coming down the stairs to a ten-gun salute. I was terrified and tapping my bat a million times per minute on the ground as he ran in. He was one of my idols." And before you ask - Tommy got 7 that day in Bloemfontein, 23 balls, 33 minutes, with one four, and White Lightning did not claim his scalp.
Kiwi cricket has lost one of its characters this week, with Tommy stepping aside. He's one bloke I'd be keen to keep hearing from, though, fuelled by a love for the game and a sense of humour rather than a suburb-sized ego.
I look forward to sharing a duck risotto with him and his sweatband one day soon.
Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here