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Martin Crowe’s legendary innings: A tribute

We pay tribute to the Kiwi cricketing great, a true gentleman of the game
Martin Crowe

Martin Crowe was just eight years old when he shared a secret dream with his dad Dave. “When I grow up,” he confided, “I want to score a test century at Lord’s.”

It was an ambitious goal for the young West Aucklander, who had played his first game of cricket just three years earlier, wearing “pads so big, it was difficult to walk, let alone run”. But when he grew up, he did indeed score a test century at Lord’s. Twice. Now, his last over has been bowled. His final six has been hit. The crowds have stopped roaring. Last week, on March 3, surrounded by the love of his family, Martin, 53, lost his battle with cancer.

According to lifelong friend and former All Black Grant Fox, the sporting hero, who married former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes in an intimate wedding ceremony seven years ago, passed quickly after being admitted to a hospice a day earlier for pain management. He will be remembered as the best batsman in New Zealand cricket history.

In the years after his diagnosis with follicular lymphoma, Martin described Lorraine, 51, as his “guardian angel” and referred to his daughter Emma Louise, 12, as “the person who saved my soul”.

And despite blaming his cancer on the emotional devastation he experienced during his early years in the sport, cricket remained his burning passion to the end. “My precarious life ahead may not afford me the luxury of many more games to watch,” he wrote in his blog before the World Cup final in March last year. “So this is likely to be it. I can happily live with that.” Both on and off the field, Martin lived a colourful life with more than a touch of glamour.

The cousin of Hollywood heavyweight Russell Crowe and the younger brother of Jeff Crowe (also a former Black Cap), Martin competed in 77 test matches and captained the NZ team in the early 1990s, including the side that contested the 1992 World Cup.

Marrying gorgeous “guardian angel” Lorraine on Valentine’s Day, 2009.

Love & loss

On the field, he dazzled opponents with his skill and his imaginative leadership style. Off field, the driven sportsman at first resisted long-term romantic attachments, fearing it would distract him from the game.

That changed in 1985, three years after his test debut, when he met Simone Curtice at a party in an Auckland restaurant. The blonde model was out the back, crying over a romance gone wrong. “Her boyfriend’s surname was Eagle,” Martin recalled in his 1995 biography Out on a Limb, “so it didn’t seem too odd that a Crowe should come to her rescue.” The couple’s romance was on-again, off-again for many years – Martin was the first to admit he prioritised cricket over the relationship – and then, in November 1991, he took Simone by surprise, proposing to her at Auckland’s Piha Beach.

“I’d always said I wouldn’t get married while I was playing cricket because I didn’t think you could give it 100%. But you can,” Martin told Woman’s Day after the engagement. “I just want to be the best I can be – as a partner and as a captain.”Earlier that year, Martin had batted his way into NZ cricketing history playing against Sri Lanka at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

The master batsman in action against England at Auckland’s Eden Park in 1984.

The Black Caps were facing a humiliating defeat when he hit two centuries and was well on the way to a third. On 299 runs, he was caught out behind. It was an NZ record for the most runs in a test innings – a record that stood until 2014, when Brendon McCullum scored 302 – but for Martin, it was a crushing disappointment. He hurled his bat into the wall of the dressing room.

Martin waits his turn to bat for the Kiwi team against Pakistan during the ’93/’94 season.

Living his dream! Martin in 1994, on field for the second test between New Zealand and England at Lord’s.

Strutting his stuff back in 1991.

“It’s a bit like climbing Everest and pulling a hamstring in the last stride,” he wrote later. “Tears streamed down my face as I realised this opportunity might never happen again.” A few minutes later, the champagne corks popped, but the disappointment gnawed away at him for years. “Not a week would go by when I wouldn’t be reminded of the one run I craved so much,” he said. “It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh. I did not know how to let it go.”

While Martin found it difficult to deal with the emotional lows of world-class sport, there were some perks – including brushes with royalty. On the second day of a test at Lord’s in June 1986, the then- 23-year-old stood outside the pavilion, wearing his pads and blazer, to meet the Queen. “When I was introduced to her, it was as two Crowe brothers, Jeff on my left, and me,” Martin wrote recently in his blog. “The Queen replied, ‘Oh, you do do this to us, you know, brothers coming to take on England,’ to which I replied, ‘Well, Mum and Dad are here too.’”Embarrassed, Martin admitted he had to sneak to the bathroom to regain his composure before continuing with his innings.

Martin and Simone tied the knot in front of close friends and family on April 19, 1992 at Baradene College in Auckland.

Marrying Simone in 1992, the year after the captain made batting history.

Between 1982 and 1995, he was widely regarded as the best batsman to have represented New Zealand, playing 77 tests and 143 one-day internationals, and racking up 17 centuries – the most by any Kiwi at test level. In 1991, he was New Zealand Sportsman of the Year and also awarded an MBE for services to cricket. Ten years later, he was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Success, however, came at a physical cost. Martin endured a number of injuries, including a broken shin, back trouble, torn hamstrings and painful knee problems. Touring India in 1995, his knee injury gave him no choice but to pull out of the deciding match. He never played for his country again. Twenty20 vision Retirement from professional sport, however, brought other opportunities.

Sky TV asked him to come up with a more television-friendly format for the game. Martin’s answer was Cricket Max, a three-hour version that became the catalyst for the now globally popular Twenty20 format. It changed the landscape of cricket forever. The sporting world was abuzz about Cricket Max, but privately, Martin’s life was falling apart. He was grieving the end of his 16-year sporting career and behind closed doors, his marriage was in trouble too. He and Simone officially separated on January 28, 1996. He moved into an Auckland apartment and confessed later, “I couldn’t get out of bed for months. I just lay there, looking at the ceiling.”

Sharing a laugh with his cousin, Hollywood heavyweight Russell.

Eventually, Martin booked into a health clinic in the Queensland rainforest. It was during a rebirthing session there that the star experienced an epiphany – he missed having a close relationship with his dad.

He returned to Auckland, bought a villa and every Tuesday, Dave visited to shoot pool, puff on cigars, listen to music, eat steak and quaff wine. “This became our night, just the two of us,” said Martin. “It was the cure I needed.” Over the following years, Martin went from being part of Sky TV’s marketing team to becoming an on-air commentator and, behind the scenes, executive producer for all cricket coverage. In April 2000, Dave Crowe was diagnosed with cancer through his spine, liver and pancreas, and was given just two weeks to live.

Martin called his movie-star cousin Russell, who had looked upon Dave as a mentor throughout his teenage years. Russell instructed Martin to book the Berkeley Cinema in Mission Bay for 6pm the following Saturday. The actor then flew to Aotearoa from Ecuador, where he was filming the movie Proof of Life with Meg Ryan, arriving at the theatre with a copy of the yet-to-be-released movie Gladiator.

Said Martin, “At the end of the movie, Dad gave Russell a big hug and said, ‘You bloody ripper!’” A few days later, he passed away. “Life would never be the same,” said Martin. “My dad, that wonderful man, was dead.”

Two years later, life delivered a new twist. Fellow cricketer Danny Morrison and his wife Kim set up Martin on a blind date with Suzanne (also known as Huhaana) Taylor. Two months on, when Martin underwent major leg surgery – the legacy of lingering sporting injuries – Suzanne gave up her computer-software career to nurse him through the 10-week recuperation. A year later, on April 15, 2003, the pair welcomed their daughter Emma Louise into the world.

The timing of Emma’s birth meant the couple missed cousin Russell’s wedding to Danielle Spencer in Australia, but they were over the moon to become first-time parents. “It was a dream come true,” Martin told Woman’s Day. By September 2005, however, the relationship was over. Martin called the day he walked out of the family home while two-year-old Emma slept in her bed “the darkest hour of my life”, but he and Suzanne made their daughter their priority.

He proudly told the world that Emma had brought him back to life and to self-discovery. “For Suzanne and I, it just didn’t pan out,” Martin later told The Australian Women’s Weekly. “It felt like the same old story for me. I wasn’t in touch with my own emotions, I had problems that had become a habit, I had cultivated a life where my conversations were only with my ego and I decided that this couldn’t happen again.

“So I surrendered, accepted the blame and I started working on discovering my true self.” In November 2005, two months after the separation, Martin bumped into Lorraine Downes in Christchurch.

The pair had crossed paths before – first in 1990, when they co-presented a National Bank in-house video, and then in 2001, when they’d gone on a date that didn’t work out. This time, their spark was undeniable. Lorraine, now working as an image consultant, had been divorced from All Black Murray Mexted for several years. They shuttled the 600km between Auckland and Wellington, where Lorraine lived with her two children, Hilton, now 22, and Jasmine, now 17.

On Valentine’s Day 2009, the pair married in an intimate beach-house ceremony. Martin’s mother Audrey, sister Deb, an interior designer, and Florida-based Jeff celebrated at the wedding alongside Lorraine’s mum Glad and sisters Sue, Jenny and Carolyn. “To me [getting married is] an acknowledgement of our love and that we will grow old together,” said Martin on the day.

A month earlier, following his brutal public criticism of some members of the New Zealand cricket team, Martin had been sacked from his job as boss of cricket at Sky and had been put in charge of the Rugby Channel. Cricket, however, remained his passion. In 2011, at 48, he announced he was returning to the Cornwall Cricket Club, where his father’s ashes were buried, to play first-class cricket. He had two goals in mind – to regain fitness and to score the 392 runs he needed to tally 20,000 first-class runs. He trained hard and took tips from cousin Russell on supplements. Within a few months, he reckoned he was in the best shape he’d been for 20 years.

Not long after, injured yet again, he bowed out. But much worse was to come. Devastating news On September 22, 2012, Martin celebrated his 50th birthday with a lunch at MooChowChow restaurant in Ponsonby, then he and Lorraine headed off on holiday to Bali.

Before the vacation, he had consulted a doctor regarding swollen glands in his neck. On his return, he underwent a CT scan. The news was bad. It was lymphoma. Cancer. In shock, Martin reached for his iPad and was still researching the incurable blood disease when Lorraine arrived home.

“I burst into tears, I couldn’t speak. I handed her the iPad. For the next couple of hours, we held each other and cried,” Martin wrote in his 2013 autobiography Raw.

Martin shared a special relationship with his beloved girl Emma, “the person who saved my soul”.

With Lorraine for the NZ Cricket Awards in Auckland on April 1, 2015.

Martin believed the cancer was due to a weakened immune system following a long bout with salmonella he picked up during the 1984 tour of Sri Lanka and also years of emotional stress that started when he was a teenager, playing alongside 22-year-olds. “I was this protégé child, subjected to an adult world I had no understanding of,” he told New Zealand Woman’s Weekly two years ago. “I was a lost soul from the moment I was thrust into top cricket, prematurely, at the age of 14. It became all ego and cricket.” Those feelings of rejection, unworthiness, humiliation and failure, he said, ate away at him and finally, he believed, contributed to his cancer.

“I was in the spotlight so early, I never learned to handle a lot of the challenges in life … I take things far too personally. When the same stuff happens to other people, they just shrug it off. That’s not my natural response.I hold on to the emotions and bury them. “I became resentful. I held on to grievances and harboured grudges. There was no forgiving and forgetting.” Martin described Lorraine as “my rock” as he began the fight of his life. Because at first his tumours were small and there was no sign of the lymphoma in his bone marrow, his specialist adopted a “watch and wait” approach.

In November 2012, after 13 years with Sky TV, Martin took redundancy and concentrated on his fight back to health. He embraced a lifestyle of meditation and fresh juices, but early in 2013, a significant tumour had developed in his stomach and he immediately began four months of chemotherapy.

He described the treatment as brutal. Battling constant nausea and exhaustion, his hair fell out and he was unable to give “much more than a weak smile here and a cuddle there” to his loved ones. At the end of treatment, Martin was in remission. Doctors told him it would take up to six years for the follicular lymphoma to reappear. By mid-2014, however, he announced that not only had his “friend and tough taskmaster, lymphoma” returned, but he had also developed a rare blood disease called double-hit lymphoma. “It’s an ugly beast,” said Martin.

Shunning further chemo, he chose to live out what time he had left with natural remedies to boost his immune system, including a product based on sea cucumber given to him by Grant Fox, who he’d been friends with since high school. Sleeping 15 hours a day, Martin didn’t expect to live beyond the end of 2014 and noted in January 2015, “I took too long to grow up and now I’ve got that kind of perspective of what my life should be about and I’ve probably never been happier, ironically.”

On February 28 last year, the sporting legend was inducted into cricket’s Hall of Fame in a moving ceremony at Eden Park during the Cricket World Cup. The capacity crowd rose to a standing ovation as the man who was not just a cricket great, but one of New Zealand’s sporting giants, walked off the field.

The legend is inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame on February 28 last year.

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