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Goodbye, Genius

Last updated on: March 05, 2016 19:28 IST

In Martin Crowe's death, cricket has lost one of its most iconic figures in recent memory, says Shakya Mitra.

Martin Crowe

IMAGE: Former New Zealand cricketerIMAGE: The amazing Martin Crowe. Photograph: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images

Sometimes in sport, the story of falling short carries a greater sense of fairy tale than that of winning.

On the morning of March 3, as we woke up to the tragic demise of Martin Crowe at the age of 53, the first thing that came to mind was the 1992 World Cup and New Zealand's heart-breaking loss to Pakistan in the semi-final played in Auckland.

It was a tournament in which New Zealand and Crowe had done little wrong, winning seven of their eight league games. Crowe led from the front as a batsman -- and through his innovative captaincy. However, he injured his hamstring while New Zealand were batting.

Believing that there were enough runs on the board, Crowe chose to rest his strained hamstring while his team fielded so that he could be fit for the final. It was a decision that went on to haunt him for many years.

Under stand-in captain John Wright, New Zealand saw Pakistan fuelled by 21-year-old Inzamam-ul Haq who helped his team chase down a steep target of 263 with an over to spare.

There was no guarantee that New Zealand would have won the final (to be played in Australia), but given their form through the tournament, they would have been highly fancied.

First diagnosed with follicular lymphoma in 2012, which went into remission a year later, Crowe had been seriously ill for a long time. By late 2014, it was clear that he was terminally ill -- he had developed a more aggressive form of the disease, double-hit lymphoma.

However, Crowe remained alive to witness the 2015 World Cup, jointly held -- as in 1992 -- in his home country and Australia. It must have pleased him through his deadly illness to see the Kiwis reach the final and go one better than what Crowe's team did in 1992.

Martin Crowe

IMAGE: Crowe in action. Photograph: Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

Whenever we bring up Crowe, it's hard not to think about the 1992 World Cup. Few have had as profound an impact on a World Cup as Crowe did that year. In a World Cup of many firsts -- coloured clothing, floodlit matches and white balls -- Crowe livened things up even more. He was the tournament's leading batsman, scoring 456 runs at a strike rate of more than 90 with four 50s and a century. He was adjudged 'player of the tournament', and deservedly so.

His captaincy in the tournament was as extraordinary as his batting. His out-of-the-box decisions marked him out as a visionary. New Zealand may not have been the strongest team on paper, but Crowe's enterprising leadership left many 'stronger' teams baffled.

Take, for instance, his decision to use off-spinner Dipak Patel to bowl with the new ball, a ploy that caught many opposition teams off guard.

Another revolutionary idea, almost by accident, came when Wright, a regular opener, was unavailable for New Zealand's third game. Crowe asked Mark Greatbatch, a middle-order batsman, to open the batting. The results were spectacular: Greatbatch ended up scoring three half-centuries in the tournament at an impressive strike rate of 87.

In making these decisions, Crowe clearly showed the way for others. This success was reaffirmed in later World Cups -- Sri Lanka did something similar with Sanath Jayasuriya and Australia with Adam Gilchrist.

Martin Crowe

IMAGE: Crowe in February 2015. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Crowe was also a fantastic batsman, one who performed against the world's best bowlers. He finished his career with 5,444 runs in 77 Tests, averaging more than 45 with 17 centuries (still the highest by a Kiwi).

Pertinently for Crowe, he averaged 45 against the West Indies, playing against bowlers such as Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh. He also averaged an impressive 57.23 against Pakistan, facing the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

Akram paid tribute to Crowe, saying that he was the best he ever bowled to. Former Australian fast bowler and one who had several battles with Crowe, Craig McDermott, called him a beautiful, elegant batsman and a terrific stroke player, who 'when he was going, there was no more difficult man to bowl to'.

In a country known more for its rugby heroes than cricket players, Crowe was arguably the greatest alongside Richard Hadlee. In his death, the sport has clearly lost one of its most iconic figures in recent memory.

Shakya Mitra
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