It’s pity that Martin Crowe, the man widely regarded as New Zealand’s best batsman ever, was not at hand to see his protege Ross Taylor walk into the proverbial golden sunset earlier this week. There are no dearth of ‘mentors’ in the sport of cricket - especially in this era of specialisation and franchise cricket - but the chemistry between Crowe and the just-retired Kiwi great was simply unique.
The bond between Crowe and Taylor, the highest rungetter for New Zealand in Tests and ODIs, would go down as one of the most rivetting sub-plots in the history of Black Caps’ cricket. To understand the depth of their relationship, it would suffice to know how deeply Crowe was affected - mentally and physically - when Taylor was unceremoniously dumped from captaincy by the then coach Mike Hesson, who installed senior player Brendan McCullum as the leader in 2013.
The decision to remove Taylor as the captain of the side had riled Crowe so much - who was already suffering from lymphatic cancer - that he famously said in an interview that he was cutting all ties with cricket to reduce his stress levels.
Crowe said he believed worrying about cricket, particularly the axing of his protege Taylor as New Zealand captain, exacerbated his lymphatic cancer, leading to a large tumour in his stomach.
“(It fuelled) my anger, my negative emotion, my response to a fight that wasn’t even mine,” Crowe had said. “It just conjured up 20 years of suppressed anger towards this organisation (New Zealand Cricket) that I had devoted a lot of my life to. I literally couldn’t stomach what was happening to Ross.”
It was one of the most rancorous chapters in New Zealand cricket in last decade - when the Black Caps were still the quintessential under-performers till they rallied strongly under McCullum’s leadership to enthrall the cricketing world with a brand of fearless cricket in the 2015 World Cup and ended up as the runners-up to Australia. Ironically enough, both McCullum and Taylor - in principle - had been great admirers of the innovative spirit of Crowe and McCullum had often spoken about the sense of gratitude New Zealand owes to Crowe.
Goal of Test centuries
Taylor, who made his international debut more as a white ball specialist in 2006, connected with Crowe when he was barely two ODIs old - asking him to be mentor. Crowe’s phone number was since then on Taylor’s speed dial ever since then till the legend succumbed to cancer and in an interview two years back, Taylor revealed on how he was taught goal-setting in the early years of international cricket. One of the first ‘goals’ that Crowe got him to jot down was that of aiming to reach 17 Test centuries - till then the highest by a Kiwi batsman which stood in Crowe’s name.
At the end of it all, Taylor did one better and ended with 19 centuries and was one of the five Kiwi batsmen to finish over 7000 Test runs. Taylor also happens to be the only player to have featured in 100-plus matches in each of the three formats in international cricket - and Crowe’s ideas must have played a major role in his journey!