Martin Crowe was born in Henderson, New Zealand on 22nd September 1962. He played for Somerset for two seasons in 1984 and 1987. Although only three years separated his two spells at the County Ground the surroundings were poles apart.
The unknown, 21-year-old Crowe joined Somerset for the 1984 season, and they were arguably the best side in the country at the time. After a difficult start he left with a glowing reputation thanks largely to the 1,769 Championship runs he struck while wearing the Wyvern.
But when he returned in 1987 the club was under a dark cloud having underachieved in 1985 and 1986 when they finished 17th (bottom) and 16th in the County Championship. Crowe’s arrival was seen by many as the catalyst to the great Somerset mutiny and so-called ‘Battle of Shepton Mallet’ controversy which remains a major talking point even today.
Martin was from a Cricket family; his father, Dave Crowe, played first-class cricket for Canterbury and Wellington and his older brother, Jeff Crowe, also played Test cricket. The actor Russell Crowe is a first cousin. He made his first-class debut for Auckland at the age of 17, and his Test debut for New Zealand at the age of 19. On the field he carved a reputation as a handsome, clean hitting batsman with an attitude years ahead of his fragile age but off the field was viewed as a serious young man, sensitive to any criticism however well intended. But he remained totally devoted to the game and was always approachable and well mannered.
The Somerset he joined as a season long replacement for Viv Richards in 1984 was buzzing. Captained by Ian Botham the club were the reigning Natwest Bank Trophy winners – the 4th trophy win in 4 years – and had finished 10th in the County Championship and runners-up in the John Player Sunday League. To compare him directly with Richards was cheeky and infantile as the great West Indian was the best batsman in the world and Crowe needed no more pressure trying to fill the great man’s boots.
At first he struggled with the green pitches and colder air – not unique for an antipodean – and his debut against Yorkshire saw him score 1 and 10. But when he got into his stride he was simply awesome, the 6 centuries and 11 fifties are testament to that. In June he hit hundred’s in 4 consecutive games and in all 25 first class games he scored 1,870 runs at an average 53.42. Most memorable was his highest score of 190 in a great win against a Leicestershire team that included Andy Roberts at Taunton when the home team successfully chased 341 runs for the loss of just four wickets with Roebuck hitting 128 too (Scorecard). His 23 List A games produced 750 runs with 1 ton and 6 fifties with a respectable average of 34.09.
Despite Martin’s efforts Somerset had a disappointing season by recent standards; a 7th place finish in the Championship was an improvement on 1983 but two one day exits in the quarter-finals and a 13th place finish in the Sunday League was deemed unacceptable by the majority of cider county supporters.
But Martin had the world at his feet and was named one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year in the 1985 Almanack, thanks largely to his efforts at Somerset, and was credited as being one of the “best young batsmen in the world”.
Martin fancied another attempt at County Cricket in 1987 and let Somerset know of his intentions and preference to return to Taunton. But Essex had made an approach and Crowe knew there was more likelihood of being selected at Chelmsford than there was at Taunton with Richards and Joel Garner still signed as the overseas players. This placed the Somerset Board in a predicament as the team were misfiring and underachieving; not progressing beyond the group stages of either one day cup and not challenging in the Sunday League hardly complimented the second-bottom finish in the Championship. That said Richards had still piled up 1,174 in the Championship in 1986 and Garner took 47 wickets topping the club’s averages. And they were club legends – pure and simple.
The Somerset committee’s decision not to renew the contracts of the two great West Indians was as controversial as you could get and divided the Somerset faithful. There were two camps; the committee was right and the committee was wrong. Some members ripped up their memberships, families argued, the club were inundated with furious complaints and there were even death threats made to Crowe from a few morons. Martin’s signing and the way he had instigated proceedings was central to all this.
Predictably Botham decided to leave Somerset in support of his two close friends and he too had plenty to say, entering into an infamous feud with new skipper Peter Roebuck that lasted until the former journalist’s death in 2011. It was all very, very messy.
Away from all this Martin had another productive season in Somerset colours. 6 more Championship centuries and fifties were struck as he helped himself to 1,627 Championship runs including a highest score of 206 not out against Warwickshire, whose bowling was led by none other than Allan Donald (Scorecard).
Despite Martin’s brilliance this new dawn for Somerset was a false one even though the likes of Neil Burns, Graham Rose, Neil Mallender and Adrian Jones had been recruited to Roebuck’s team. His season was cut short by the New Zealand Cricket Board calling him home early and Somerset recruited a 22-year-old Aussie called Steve Waugh as replacement. Again this prompted further commentary from Botham who cited that Crowe had ‘run home never to be seen again!’
Crowe was appointed New Zealand’s captain in 1990, and led the team until 1993. He is widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s best players, scoring 17 centuries and 5,444 runs in 77 Tests at an average of 45.36. For a while he was the best batsman in the world, particularly around the 1992 World Cup when he was the tournaments highest run scorer.
He managed another game at Taunton during his final tour in 1994 scoring 56 and an undefeated 102 in a drawn game (Scorecard).
He never lost his passion for the game and later was a highly knowledgeable commentator and writer and in 2014 he contributed an article to Wisden attacking sledging while pleading for a kinder, less serious approach to the game. He was also a motivational speaker.
In 2011 he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. The cancer went into remission in 2013 but this was a brief respite and by 2014 he was ill again. Martin Crowe died on 3rd March 2016 at the criminally young age of 53 and the Cricket loving public, particularly in his home land, mourned his passing. Tributes came from players and his famous cousin Russell.
It is a shame that Martin is remembered primarily for a turbulent time at Somerset CCC. He may have only worn the Wyvern for just under two seasons but Crowe gave Somerset fabulous service and memorable moments in that time. He was a wonderful batsman to watch and you could never fault his commitment. Let’s remember him for that!