July 5, 2013

The big brother I wanted to be like

Batting and bowling alongside Chris Martin was a lesson in temperament

I remember Tommy telling me over a coffee in a Dunedin café in January 2008 that this was his chance to get double figures. That series, against Bangladesh, was, in his mind, the best chance for a career best with the bat. Talk about lumping pressure on me, as more than likely I would be batting with him at some stage.

So, in my fifth Test, batting at 10, I found myself batting for the guy behind me. I faced 22 balls for my 5, more balls than I had faced in any other innings for New Zealand. I blocked and left balls that when you bat with Chris Martin you'd typically have a "dip" at.

Tommy's previous high score, on his Test debut, was 7. In his 50th batting innings, he slashed his way to 12 from 20 balls before I nicked one behind to curtail him in his pomp. I felt obliged to apologise to him as we jogged off to get our bowing boots on - well, me to put mine on, Tommy batted in his. He only had one pair of boots; there was no need for him to have anything lighter to bat in - he usually wasn't out there long enough.

He took his batting seriously. It was just something that Tommy couldn't do, and disliked. "Inept," he called himself. He netted every opportunity he got. By the time, he got to have a hit, though, he was often left with the net bowlers, who were either knackered from a long session or not very good. Not the best training but you take out of it what you can. And the net bowlers did - they took a few wickets.

I did leave Chris with some work to do as a No. 11 that was pretty average on my part.

March 2009 v India, ESPNcricinfo's commentary:

77.1 Harbhajan Singh to O'Brien, OUT, not the smartest thing to do with your partner on 98, he suddenly decides to give the bowler the charge and Harbhajan drops the ball short, he then hangs his bat out to defend but the ball beats him and Dhoni does the rest, O'Brien will probably hide in a dark room somewhere...why? Because the next man in is Chris Martin. Can't wait to hear Iain's description of this wicket! Blog on....

And yes, I did hide, head in hands. I hid until I heard five cheers, the five balls that Tommy had to face to finish the Harbhajan over.

77.2 Harbhajan Singh to Martin, no run, loud cheers as Martin pushes out a yorker ball towards gully
77.3 Harbhajan Singh to Martin, no run, oooh and almost! Beats the outside edge, Ryder's having a chuckle
77.4 Harbhajan Singh to Martin, no run, brings it closer to middle and off and the cheers continue as Martin defends close to his pads
77.5 Harbhajan Singh to Martin, no run, and another one beats him on the forward prod
77.6 Harbhajan Singh to Martin, no run, martin smiles as he faces up this last delivery, he works it close to his pads and there's an appeal at the fielder at silly point catches it, Gould shakes his head

The crowd's roar in celebration of Jesse Ryder's maiden hundred still makes me tingle for many reasons.

He has a serenity around him that was calming to me. He knew who he was, which I was very jealous of

I gave Tommy a rather large manly hug when he came back in after Jesse was dismissed. The relief on my face, and his, was readable by all in that changing room.

And on that point, Chris had the temperament that I always wanted. He was always calm, even when under fire from the biggest and the best. He was always approachable in the changing room, even when things were not going well for him.

Some of the fondest memories of my career are of sitting in cafés around the world with Chris. Not a lot of conversation, just hanging out. I was watching him, how he went about things. I wanted his personality to slowly infect mine.

He has a serenity around him that was calming to me. He knew who he was, which I was very jealous of. Whatever the situation, whatever the scenario, he was calm. He responded, he never reacted. He got the best out of himself, a real professional. Chris trained hard, his gym work, his rest time, his diet (apart from smoking), was always at the highest level. He never needed anyone to train with in the gym; he'd just go and get it done.

He celebrated wins as they should be: until late and with lots of liquids. He would then rock up in the morning, hungover but never late, and always looking like he was just off to a café for an espresso.

Looking back over the cricket I played with Chris and the matches I've watched him perform in, one stands out more than any other for me. His five in Ahmedabad in November 2010 - knocking over the Indian top order and having India 15 for 5 and then picking up his fifth wicket at 65. Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Raina, Dhoni. I was sitting on my couch, wrapped up in a blanket, on a cold English winter morning. I was up and down, punching the air in celebration for a man who deserved every plaudit he ever got.

Of my 22 Tests, I played just four without Chris Martin. It felt strange to not have him on the park for those. It was like going on a holiday without a big brother you looked up to and who always treated you with care and respect without being overly friendly. I missed him in the changing room in those Tests. We all missed him.

And he will be missed. Maybe not now as a bowler, since stocks in New Zealand are looking healthy, but as a competitor, as a mentor, and maybe more importantly, as a bloke, because there will not be another quite like him.

Former New Zealand fast bowler Iain O'Brien played 22 Tests in the second half of the 2000s