'Family man, genius, and NZ's finest ever'
Ross Taylor has said that a letter from Martin Crowe late last year inspired him and played a key role in his knock of 290 against Australia in Perth. Taylor spoke of a one-and-a-half-page note as he and Martin Guptill fondly remembered Crowe, their mentor, who died on Thursday after a prolonged battle against cancer.
Crowe's name has often found mention when Taylor and Guptill's success has been spoken of. "It was the first time in my career that I actually doubted how long I'd be playing this game," Taylor said. "He (Crowe) wrote a one-and-a-half page letter, one of the most amazing letters I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and it was about me and just a little reminder of why you play this game. I'm sure in time I'll show people the e-mail, but it was pretty special and I must admit, I definitely wouldn't have got 290 without this e-mail.
"But in saying that, he sent a message after I bettered his record of 188 and said that that was the only record he was proud of and I took that off from him. But, he was still in good enough spirits to tell me that his highest Test score, 299, was better than mine. That put me back to earth very quickly. That e-mail may have only been a small thing, but it had a huge influence on the way I batted that day."
Taylor and Guptill shared very close relationships with Crowe, the extent of which was best reflected in the words Crowe chose for the two batsmen, just before World Cup final last year. "To see the two sons I never had, Ross Taylor and Marty Guptill, run out in black, in sync with their close comrades, will be mesmerically satisfying," Crowe had written. "I will hold back tears all day long."
Guptill had not known Crowe for as long as Taylor did, but Crowe still had a massive influence on his career. "The last two years, it's been valuable and I won't forget my time with him," Guptill said.
"He's very positive, he just wanted to push me to be the best I can be. I've got a lot of stuff we've worked on together, I've got it locked away in my head."
Taylor remembered how it was only on the insistence of Ian Smith that he first approached Crowe. "I was probably a little different to most Kiwi kids," Taylor said. "My favourite players, growing up, were Sachin Tendulkar and Mark Waugh. I didn't mind Hogan, I enjoyed watching him in the 1992 World Cup, but I didn't really model my game on his. But I had just come into the New Zealand team, I was in limbo.
"I knew Ian Smith very well, I went to school with his son Jarrod and we were good friends. I was just talking to Smithy one day and said I was enjoying playing cricket, but want to be better, and he said, 'I think it's about time you gave Martin Crowe a call.' It was pretty nerve-wracking, ringing a New Zealand great, but he was pretty open and I flew up and stayed in his house in Auckland.
"He's just a genius. He was a pretty hard taskmaster. That's what I needed in my career, for someone to kick me up the backside when needed. But at the same time, he understood when to pump your tyres up a little bit. I don't think I'd be the player I've become without the guidance he gave me throughout and I owe a lot of my career to what he passed on to me."
Taylor was especially emotional while talking about the time he first learnt of Crowe's illness, during New Zealand's tour of England last year. "When I first found out, he was pretty open about the illness. He sent a message through a couple of days before the Test in Leeds and said, 'I'm not well and if I do pass away, please do not come back for the funeral.' His last wish was for me and Gup to bat together. So Kane [Williamson] knicked off and I went out to bat, glove-punched Gup and we both said at the same time, 'this is for Hogan.' I'm sure he'll be looking down and telling me to play straight."
Guptill was packing his bags to leave for Dubai for New Zealand's preparatory camp ahead of the World T20 when he received news of Crowe's death. "I was with my wife Laura and she got a notification from New Zealand Herald, saying he had passed away and, straightaway, I just felt very numb. We knew it was coming but didn't know when. And when it eventually did, it still came as a bit of a shock and one that will take some time to get over.
"Ross has known Martin longer than I have. We were both quite emotional getting on that plane. We shared a glass of wine together in memory of Hogan, so that was a nice thing to do while we were in the air."
Calling him a family man, Guptill fondly recalled the time he spent with Crowe outside of cricket, particularly the night before his wedding as well as the day when Crowe, along with his entire family, went to watch the NRL grand final of 2014 with Guptill's family.
Guptill summed up Crowe as one of New Zealand's finest ever. "When I was a lot younger, in the lounge, watching the Test matches at Eden Park, I used to pad up and pretend to be while Martin was batting on TV, so that's one thing I'll take away from his early career. I don't remember too much of him playing, to be honest. All I remember is him being a seriously good player and probably our finest ever."
Taylor recounted Crowe's first impression of him as a "dirty slogger" and summed up Crowe as a passionate man who loved and wanted to give back to the game. "I had only just started playing first-class cricket and Leanne (Taylor's manager) rang him up and said, 'I've got a new player, Ross Taylor, can you go and have a look at him?' I think I batted at 5 then for CD (Central Districts) and I saw Martin walking around the boundary, like a selector at an age-group tournament. I think I got about 40 off 25 balls on the first morning of a first-class game and Hogan said to Leanne, 'he's nothing but a dirty slogger.' But things have come a long way. Hopefully, I've improved from that slogger back at Eden Park No. 2.
"He was passionate, emotional, and a genius. He had a kind heart and I think he just wanted to be included and give back to the game of cricket that had been so good to him. He saw what I wanted to do and I just hope I was able to give him a little bit of personal satisfaction out of my career because he did give me a lot."