February 18, 2014

How McCullum helped me let go

Not scoring a triple-century has weighed heavy on this writer, but New Zealand's captain has helped lay that personal bogey to rest
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Thank you, Brendon. You have capped the most incredible of weekends, the most important of summers.

The majority of the words to follow will focus on the magnificence of Brendon McCullum's deeds over the last two weeks in particular, and of a period that exemplifies humanity at its best. Before I do I first need to be honest with you all about a personal development that came about as I witnessed these latest marvels.

I have shared the belief that I became riddled with cancer due to my toxic suppression of negative events throughout my life. What isn't known is that one of those demons was my decision to not field against Pakistan in the semi-final of the 1992 World Cup, and to instead put my torn hamstring on ice, elevated and compressed, in an attempt to be fit for the final at the MCG, four days later. I thought we had enough on the board (262 on a slow, low pitch) and the medical advice was that to be fit to play in four days I needed to elevate and ice immediately, and therefore not field. I have regretted that decision for nearly 22 years.

On Saturday, day two of the second Test at the Basin, while India dominated New Zealand, I delivered an address to a large audience as part of the 1992 World Cup team reunion. The occasion marked exactly one year to the start of the next World Cup, to be held again in New Zealand and Australia.

As I admitted my regret of that decision, I broke down. As I looked into the eyes of Ian Smith, Andrew Jones, Dipak Patel, Mark Greatbatch and the rest of the squad, I choked up completely. From deep within, the pain of that regret surfaced unexpectedly. I somehow finished my speech and sat down next to my wife, Lorraine. She had not known of this pain, and now it was finally out. As I sat there I realised I was free of a curse that had tormented me for over two decades.

In very dark times I blamed others, like John Wright, and I felt guilty at having done so. In truth, I simply blamed myself. It was the one real chance for glory for my country, to lift the World Cup, and I was beside myself that I had misjudged the moment, under the West Stand at Eden Park that day. Yet one demon remained.

February 4, 1991. Basin Reserve. I never forgave myself for getting out for 299 against Sri Lanka. Not a week would go by when I wouldn't be reminded of the one run I craved so much. It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh. I did not know how to let it go, could never laugh at the absurdity of my anger. Ultimately it contributed to a dislike of myself, and to a notion that I was not worthy enough. I was desperate to be liked and I thought scoring big hundreds would suffice. I even thought one more run would be enough. I was staggeringly naïve to think so. I missed the entire point of life, how it should be appreciated.

In the last year, through counselling and various unexpected moments, I have learnt to let go. On day one of our summer, the first day of the first Test between New Zealand and West Indies in Dunedin, when McCullum and Ross Taylor embraced each other upon reaching their respective centuries, I felt a massive weight lift from within, as I sensed they did. I was genuinely pleased for both players, equally. It was truly symbolic.

And now today, with Brendon scoring our nation's first ever triple-hundred, I have finally removed the one remaining stone in my shoe. It's pathetic to even have to do so, yet massively necessary. Yes, it has been quite an uplifting few days of personal selfish rehabilitation. But enough of my personal crap; I will bore you no more. Forgive me for the purge, but it sets the scene for what I really want to say.

Cricket in New Zealand has experienced a euphoric awakening. What Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum have achieved these last few months is monumentally epic. They have inspired their team, a team that has been in the doldrums for too long. Indeed they have reinvigorated a cricket nation, and most importantly encouraged many young aspiring athletes to dream big. This is what sport at its best does: it offers hopes and dreams for all, and if you are positively aroused from a young age it can steer your life down that personal path to fulfilment. To actually see magnificence on your nation's sporting stage is to suck in the air of its very excellence. You get moved by it. Richard Hadlee did it for me. And so these two team-mates this summer have done it for their fellow men and those to follow.

I never forgave myself for getting out for 299 against Sri Lanka. Not a week would go by when I wouldn't be reminded of the one run I craved so much. It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh

McCullum was always a leader. He did it at under-19 level superbly. Taylor was in that team, three years the junior. So McCullum should always have assumed the mantle of national captain one day - a natural step from vice-captaincy to Dan Vettori. Somehow he got laid off from the vice-captaincy in 2009, Taylor reluctantly stepping into the breach.

Four long years later McCullum is the true leader, marching his men forward with exemplary and extraordinary example.

With New Zealand 30 for 3 in Auckland, he strode in and dismantled the Indian attack for 224, setting up a stunning, close-fought victory. To then contemplate a dire situation with a stirring rearguard action only days later, in the second Test, and occupy the crease longer than any Kiwi has ever done, speaks volumes of his character and his stamina. For a man with career-threatening back- and knee injuries screaming at him, it simply defies all odds.

From the little I know of Brendon, he is a sensitive, intensely proud, even emotionally driven, human. By removing the emotion from his game he allowed the right energy to flow through his game, settling him into a zone of fierce focus and determination, where he was always aware the job was never done. He showed that with responsibility he could seek a new wisdom, a better way, and that a large picture can only be created one fluent stroke at a time. His defence was immaculate, his footwork aligned and flowing, to making the bowler bend down to field, his concentration built one over at a time.

Taylor set the scene in December, batting over 20 hours in three Tests, yet McCullum has added a new layer, achieving even better in just two. He has set the bar that others like Kane Williamson will now aim at, and which will challenge Taylor further. McCullum has a blueprint from which he, and hundreds of youth watching, can call upon again and again.

It's all about relevance. The canvas at summer's start was bare; now it oozes genius and richness. The landscape has been redrawn for good, and the portrait is of proud, resilient, inspirational New Zealand cricket men fulfilling their gift and their want, and calling on others to walk this newfound path.

The next generation's DNA is already building on the work of these two men this summer, who not long ago were forced innocently to stand 12 paces apart from each other, eye to eye, guns at the ready. Yet as we know happens in life, the pleasure came along at the right moment, when it was meant to, to give us balance and faith again.

It is another worthy story of love, not war.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on February 20, 2014, 17:56 GMT

    @Insightful2013 Sir/Madam, Please read these lines as they are... I am not leaving anything between them. You may agree that a person judges others reflecting most frequently from their own (personal) life experience, knowledge, wisdom (or, lack thereof), prejudices, empathy, likes & dislikes, premonitions, fears, jealousy etc. In brief, others and their actions are perceived via a filter of who **we** really are. Hence, no wonder, Martin's article (or, any article on this website) brings about such diverse responses. Yours here is quite interesting, I admit. Stay tuned with this column please. You make for a good after-read.

  • Insightful2013 on February 20, 2014, 16:13 GMT

    I also suggest you get to know Brendon better before you characterize him. Also, your article appears to diminish previous Kiwi cricketers efforts until now. I was always a fan of your batting and though this article appears cathartic, I think, it demonstrates, cunning,more. For someone as brilliant as you were, I think you had to be selfish and very intense and not the sensitive chap, you appear to be projecting. Which, I am grateful for, since I did so enjoy your exploits. I'm also happy that so many others are inspired by this story and not as analytical as I am, re reading between the lines. I do enjoy your articles because you are a such a good writer but this martyrdomish style, is beneath you. Forgive the neologisms. Your true character is much more admirable and you shouldn't stray from it.

  • MeijiMura on February 20, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    I'm not sure batting second would have helped much anyway, certainly not with John Wright in the side opening the batting. He was always so slow and it would have placed even more pressure on Mark Greatbatch, Andrew Jones, yourself, Kenny Rutherford and everyone else to follow in the line-up. Furthermore against the likes of Wasim and Imran, as others have pointed out, it would have been no easy task chasing down whatever total Pakistan set. It was a shame that the two sides that played the best cricket consistently throughout the tournament didn't play off in the final (New Zealand and South Africa) but it just wasn't to be. South Africa's decision to bowl first against England, the crucial drop catch off Hick early on and the weather all proved to be decisive factors in South Africa's loss. Your injury at a crucial time in the match cost you a century which would have lifted everyone and taken NZ to 280+, but it just wasn't to be. It was destined to be an England v Pakistan final.

  • MeijiMura on February 20, 2014, 13:49 GMT

    Martin, you rank amongst the classiest batsmen I have ever seen and certainly the best batsman to come out of New Zealand in at least the past thirty years if not in the history of New Zealand cricket. I have often thought about John Wright's role in the semi-final loss to Pakistan in the 1992 World Cup myself. His inclusion and slow batting along with your injury as you were rapidly approaching your century were major reasons why New Zealand didn't get the 280-300 that would have made Pakistan's chase a really difficult one. Mark Greatbatch's failure was also pivotal to the end result. He was the batsman who provided NZ with the impetus at the start of the innings. You can't blame yourself for being injured though. You also can't blame yourself for the result. I think New Zealand were light-on for bowlers and coming up against such a strong Pakistan batting line-up with Rameez, Javed, Imran and Inzamam amongst others there is no guarantee they wouldn't have chased down 280-300 anyway.

  • dummy4fb on February 20, 2014, 3:48 GMT

    M.D.CROWE n.o....in life.That's special enough. Kudos to you for laying your soul bare to us cricket tragics

  • SameOld on February 20, 2014, 2:31 GMT

    @jaredr:

    Maybe it's just you. From the looks of the majority of comments here, MC has plenty of fans, as a cricketer and a writer. He's payed to give *his* perspective because he is Martin Crowe: the guy who will overshare a bit, drop in a few sentences or ideas that will stop you in your tracks, and put a slightly different spin on the stuff every cricket wonk is chattering about this week. How many sports writers offer all that in a column or podcast?

  • mshyder on February 20, 2014, 1:34 GMT

    Based on current form and players NZ should go places in the years to come. All they need to find is better opening test pair. Foultan in particular needs to be replaced by someone who can occupy the crease for longer duration. Rutherford may be given few more chances but he needs to learn to put a higher price for his wicket. Other than that NZ is perhaps to most balanced and talented side along with Australia at the moment. They just need to play more tests in the next 12-18 months and their ranking will definitely jump high. Wonder if they would get more tests under the new system as the Big 3 would be scared to play against them.

  • dummy4fb on February 19, 2014, 22:53 GMT

    I hope you read these comments, because its great to see you coming back to cricket and writing wonderful articles and advising again. I was saddened when youi said no more! Its great also to see how you have matured and changed for the better seeing life in a fuller perspective. WELL DONE, kudos and respect!

  • Joll on February 19, 2014, 20:39 GMT

    It's sad a batsman can view an innings of 299 as being a failure. Bradman once scored 299 not out but, to my knowledge, never complained about the one run in that innings he did not score. It seems Crowe is unneccesarily harsh on himself. He does not focus on what did achieve; rather, he focuses on what he didn't achieve. This is very negative. Did Bradman make much of the fact he did not average 100 in tests, but instead averaged 99.94? No, he didn't, because he realised his achievements far outweighed his failures. Crowe should realise the same.

  • espncricinfomobile on February 19, 2014, 20:01 GMT

    First of all Martin should never regret what has gone before. He was a talented and exceptional batsman who gave so much to world and New Zealand cricket. I hope what he prophesies in his article is indeed what proves to occur in the future. New Zealand, by population, is the smallest of the test cricket nations and cricket is not even it's number one game. However, it can produce good teams and I hope Brendon's innings as well as the successes of this summer inspire a new interest amongst the kiwi public and continued success. You can't expect New Zealand to be the number one test team but there is no reason why it can't be competitive and have series wins. I hope they do as it's a marvellous nation and one I have always wished well. A strong New Zealand would be good for cricket and increased competitiveness in the game. I hope they do well and continue their run when they go away to the West Indies soon