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The summer a young Martin Crowe made an indelible impact at Somerset – Almanack

Martin Crowe
by Eric Hill 5 minute read

Martin Crowe was one of New Zealand’s greatest batsmen, but he learnt much about the game during a summer stint with Somerset in 1984. After it, he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

At the age of 21, Martin David Crowe, who was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on September 22, 1962, achieved in his first season of county cricket what most cricketers would have considered impossible. In terms of cricket, the esteem of colleagues and public respect, he managed to fill, with poise and dignity, the enormous gap left in Somerset’s ranks by the absence of Vivian Richards, who was touring with the West Indians.

In any context this was a remarkable achievement. Set against the background of a broken thumb and food poisoning, suffered on the New Zealand tour of Sri Lanka, the anxiety to do well in a strange environment, home-sickness and a most depressing first month, it was astonishing.

The last week in May, played out on awkward pitches, brought the nadir of his fortunes. He was dismissed for single figures in five consecutive innings. Then the character of the man, the utterly correct, old-fashioned batting technique, and the innate self-examination unusual in one so young, shone through into four centuries in successive Championship games, a golden June of 719 runs at an average of 143.8, and, overall, a superb season. Some 2,600 runs, 1,870 of them first-class, 44 first-class wickets, and numerous one-day triumphs which brought two match awards, plus some brilliant fielding, rounded things off splendidly.

The day after the season ended with that momentous Championship-decider against Nottinghamshire at Taunton – “about the best all-round match I’ve ever played in” – Martin looked back over it all.

“I’ve enjoyed it immensely, more than I thought I would,” he said. “I probably learned more in six months than in six years before, and developed a greater awareness of everything that goes on in the middle. I seem to be able to understand the game more now. I’ve been prepared to accept everything that’s gone on, and analysed why things have happened, and I’ve now got a lot of answers that I probably didn’t have before.

“I found it very much harder than I expected, day in, day out, with all the distractions of one-day cricket, the John Player, the travelling, and all the different types of situations. There were times when I wondered if it was all worth it. For a while, these counter-balanced what success I had.”

One turning-point was the match against Leicestershire – then Championship leaders – at Taunton in late June. On a fresh pitch, Somerset were in trouble against a fit and hostile Andy Roberts. Crowe reckoned his 70 not out was “the gutsiest innings I played. I was up against a guy in form, and it was a fantastic experience in the sense that it frightened the death out of me. All of a sudden I would forget about technique, or just batting. It was total instinct, like fighting blow for blow.

“Looking back, it upset me that I lost control; at the same time, I had the technique and ability to get through it while I was taking blows and giving a few back. I’ll need that experience again one day, especially against West Indies.”

In the second innings he made 190, which was generally assessed as a brilliant effort. It also gave him a very high regard for his partner, Peter Roebuck, whose 128 helped to give Somerset an almost incredible victory. Needing 341 to win in 87 overs, Somerset were three for two when they started their record stand of 319. “That was a steady, controlled sort of innings,” Crowe said, “based on the fact that we were looking just to survive and play out the day. Then we turned round and had a good last session.”

Sport runs deep in the Crowe family, with Martin’s elder brother, Jeff, a Test player, his father a first-class cricketer, and his mother “probably our best all-round sportsman”. Martin was a rugby man at school, and now enjoys squash, tennis and golf with the rest of the family. He went through the whole cricket system, eventually becoming the youngest first-class debutant. “Dad’s got to take all the credit for that,” he said. In due course came his first experiences in England, with a scholarship to the Lord’s groundstaff in 1981, league cricket with Bradford in 1982, and the New Zealand tour to England, combined with the World Cup, in 1983.

Though he had his early heroes in Garry Sobers, Mark Burgess and Glenn Turner, he never modelled his cricket on any one individual. Giving a glimpse of the own-man attitude which quietly adorns a determined character, he was, he guessed, “too busy playing my own little game.” Reminded of Greg Chappell’s early days with Somerset, he commented: “It’d be nice to score half his runs.”

Somerset’s team injuries in 1984 led to much more use than expected being made of his lively in-swingers, with some good results. Although he saw himself as a bits-and-pieces bowler in the line-up he enjoyed it and was always observing and analysing in search of improvement.

His great contribution on the field did not stop there. He made some excellent friends among all his team-mates. They all made contributions that were valuable. “I don’t really look at statistics. The friendships I made were probably most important.” Perceptively observing that some of the younger players needed more purpose and pride in their jobs, he formed the Young Nags Club (uncapped players only, wearing ties and jackets; capped players by invitation).

It was a great success. They met regularly at the Nag’s Head, a pub near Taunton, to discuss problems, have a meal, levy fines for misconduct on and off the field, and enjoy themselves in a purposeful way. The theme of maturity was maintained inasmuch as Crowe was by no means the oldest.

Certainly Martin Crowe made an indelible impact in one season, and Somerset will greatly welcome his decision to keep in touch – on a part-time basis – over the next two years, during some strenuous New Zealand tours. The question of his long-term plans he will have to leave until the end of New Zealand’s tour to England in 1986. Whatever he decides, the warmest of welcomes will always await him in Somerset.

Martin Crowe did return to Somerset in 1987, and enjoyed another successful season. For New Zealand, he played in 77 Tests, scoring 5,444 runs at 45.36.

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