WELLINGTON: Martin Crowe, a cricketer of prodigious talent who made batting appear effortless while secretly struggling with the burden of being a world-class player in otherwise modest New Zealand teams, died of cancer Thursday. He was 53.
Crowe was first diagnosed with aggressive follicular lymphoma in 2012 and after chemotherapy, he was thought to be in remission. But Crowe announced in September 2014 that the cancer, which he called "my friend and tough taskmaster," had returned.
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In a statement, his family said "it is with heavy hearts that the family of Martin Crowe advise his death. The family request privacy at this time."
Crowe played 77 tests and 143 one-day internationals for New Zealand in a 13-year career. He scored 5,444 test runs at an average of 45.36 with 17 centuries.
Crowe was the son of a first-class cricketer — his father Dave played a handful of matches for New Zealand's Canterbury province and had high ambitions for sons Jeff and Martin to surpass his achievements. Both went on to play for and captain New Zealand during one of the country's most successful periods in international cricket.
Martin Crowe was a batsman in the classical mode, standing tall at the crease, using his feet with great expertise and playing spin and fast bowling with equal assurance. But he was often also wracked by self-doubt.
In his autobiography, "Raw," Crowe said he "became a man who harbored grudges. ... The world record-holder for grievances." He wrote that he had "a disconnected spirit and soul overwhelmed by the ego and the emotional instability created from my unfinished teenage development."
Martin preceded older brother Jeff into the New Zealand teams in 1982, at age 19, having played almost three years of first-class cricket that established his reputation as a young batsman of outstanding potential.
His introduction to test cricket was torrid — facing Australia's attack of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee.
Though past their peak, they welcomed the youngster with a hail of bouncers at Wellington's Basin Reserve in February 1982.
A short ball from Thomson dislodged Crowe's helmet. Disconcerted, he looked almost relieved to be run out for nine. He made two in the second test at Auckland and nine in the third at Christchurch to total only 20 runs for the series.
From that inauspicious start, Crowe accumulated 5,444 runs in tests at an average of 45 and 4,704 in limited-overs internationals at 38.55.
His second-innings 299 against Sri Lanka in 1991 was the highest test score by a New Zealander until 2014, when Brendan McCullum scored 302 against India on the same ground at Wellington.
Crowe's partnership of 467 with Andrew Jones was, at its time, the largest for any wicket in test history and remains the third-highest.
Crowe was outstanding tactically as captain, although he could also be stand-offish with teammates. His innovative leadership carried New Zealand far further than expected at the 1992 World Cup, to the semifinals. He used off-spinner Dipak Patel to great effect with the new ball and excelled with his field settings and aggression at the top of the order.
He first established himself in New Zealand's middle order on a 1983 England tour, gleaning confidence from a handful of moderate scores — his best was a first-innings 46 in the third test at Lord's.
When England came to New Zealand for the return series in 1984, Crowe scored the first of his 17 test centuries in the series-opening match. His second century didn't come for more than a year, until New Zealand's next home series against Pakistan. From there, he settled into a pattern of ruthless accumulation that marked the best years of his career.
A brilliant first-innings 188 against the West Indies was followed by another 188 in a famous New Zealand victory over Australia in 1985.
Richard Hadlee took nine wickets in the first innings and 15 for the match as New Zealand, helped by Crowe's outstanding, eight-hour knock, won by an innings and 41 runs at Brisbane.
That was one of the high points of Crowe and Hadlee — New Zealand's only players of indisputable world class — leading their team to a series of international successes.
Hadlee's retirement in 1990 left Crowe as New Zealand's only world-class player. At times he struggled with that responsibility. He also battled increasing injuries that eventually brought his career to an end after 77 tests and 143 one-day internationals, in 1995.
At the start of his career he was a promising medium-pace bowler but injury quickly forced him to quit the bowling crease.
Crowe is survived by his wife, 1983 Miss Universe winner Lorraine Downes, and two stepchildren.