SINCE glowing tributes have already been paid to Martin Crowe, who succumbed to cancer last week aged 53, I will restrict myself to recounting an incident which had a profound influence on my career.
Like many, I was a die-hard Crowe fan and fortunate to watch some of his greatest innings (mostly on TV) when he was at his peak in the early 90s, an epic 299 in the 1991 Wellington Test against Sri Lanka in particular. With only three balls left for the match to end in a draw, he needed a single to become the first Kiwi to score a triple hundred. But he was dismissed, caught behind.
“It was a bit like climbing Everest and pulling a hamstring in the last stride,” he later said of that knock.
Crowe was elegance and eloquence personified and perhaps second only to my childhood hero G R Vishwanath when it came to, as Wisden put it, “utterly correct, old-fashioned batting technique.”
When I met him for the first and only time in the mid 90s, Crowe was in the twilight of his celebrated career, clearly past his best and, ravaged by a litany of injuries, looking weak and weary. I, by contrast, was in the limelight, on my second or third full tour as a cricket correspondent, brimming with energy and buoyant beyond belief.
A young New Zealand team was in India for a short tour and the first Test was in my home town Bangalore. Undoubtedly, Crowe was the centre of attraction with his exploits, both on and off the field, in the 1992 World Cup still fresh in public memory and, therefore, much sought after by the media.
I relentlessly chased my hero, both on and off the field, for an ‘exclusive’ and used all my ‘home advantage’ (connections, basically) in vain. As the first Test was drawing to a close, I vowed to continue the chase across the length and breadth of the country during the rest of the tour to meet my hero and make that ‘exclusive’.
At the end of the fifth day of the Test as we were leaving the press box, the PR of the New Zealand team, an amiable young man and a golf freak, tapped my shoulder and whispered ‘he will meet you in 15 minutes once everyone has left’. I could not believe my ears.
I wondered what had made my hero change his mind after having bluntly refused to even give a few bytes. I later learnt that the PR man had persuaded him to talk to me as a ‘return favour’ for having made ‘arrangements’ (pulling strings, basically) at one of the local golf clubs for him to play a couple of rounds during their week-long stay in Bangalore.
It seemed like an eternity before I came face to face with my hero in the club house. With so many people hanging around, I suddenly felt nervous and it was getting worse by the second. And, I frankly told him how I was feeling.
I will never forget his immediate gesture. He took away the mini tape recorder I was fumbling with, pushed a glass of water in front of me and smiled as if to say: “Don’t worry, it’s going to be Ok.”
The next hour or so was pure bliss as he answered my questions, repeatedly pausing to make sure I was getting it right, particularly when it came to the ‘loaded’ ones.
Among the over hundred interviews I must have done in the past quarter of a century, I rate that among the top five … for its depth, range, length and above all emotional content. We had to split it into three parts – ‘on field’, ‘off field’ and ‘close up and personal’ before publishing it over three days.
During that hour with him, there was no hint of what was to happen to my hero in the coming years. As such, the revelations of his fight with cancer and his paradoxes, as revealed in his biography Martin Crowe – Tortured Genius (byJoseph Romanos), and the sordid confession of being a ‘world record-holder for grievances’ in his autobiography Raw were shocking to say the least.
But to me all the above hardly matter. He will remain a gem in the crown of international cricket … as long as it is played.