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Thursday, January 2, 2014

pressure of success and ... wearing a mask in life... Martin Crowe

He was once dismissed for 299 in a Test - I had watched and admired his ease of picking up runs of the hip ~ he was in Chennai but could not bat a single delivery……….. more of that in the penultimate  para… the man is Martin David Crowe, a player, commentator and author…………. A grand right hander who could bowl too, brother of Jeff Crowe who captained New Zealand………… Crowe has gone through rough patches in life and his writings have always borne class…  His cousin, Russel Crowe,  won Academy award for his portrayal  as Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator: a  Roman legatus forced into becoming a slave who seeks revenge against Commodus.  Crowe played 77 test matches, averaging 45.65 with the bat, including 17 centuries and 18 half-centuries. He also played 143 One Day International, averaging 38.55, and hit four centuries and 34 half-centuries. Though not material to this post, in 2009 Crowe married former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes.

A  classical batsman with a wide range of shots and seemingly all the time in the world to play them, Martin Crowe came from a cricketing family - his father had played in the first-class game and brother Jeff represented New Zealand - and made his Test debut aged 19, quickly being tagged with the label of best young batsman in the world. He broke a series of record, despite being blighted by injuries which included a broken shin, back trouble, torn hamstrings and in latter years, serious knee injuries. After retiring, he took up as a commentator with Sky in New Zealand as well as heading their cricket coverage behind the scenes. He was also the man who came up with Cricket Max, for a time a success in New Zealand but a format which never caught on elsewhere.

He wrote a book ‘Raw’ but at a later stage he was diagnosed with cancer -  suffering from follicular lymphoma and having undergone chemo, Crowe became bald.  More than facing the boucers, the condition sure would have depressed him and put lot of self-doubt in him.  His was to be a story of a man who took criticism too personally and who let his stress get the better of him. A man who looked so in control at the crease yet, by his own admission, had large periods of his life where he was out of control. At one point he had three major antagonists: Sky Television, cancer and New Zealand Cricket. And they are all - he reckons - linked.

Crowe was to be admired  for unleashing a brutal self-assessment. Examples include his views on the Test championship, an assessment of Brendon McCullum's batting and of Muttiah Muralitharan's legacy, a breakdown of Stephen Fleming's career at home and abroad, and thoughts on how cricket should best use technology. Crowe was a deserved choice to deliver the annual Cowdrey lecture at Lord's in 2006. With this long intro, read his views on Greame Swann’s retirement (excerpted from Cricinfo)

Unless the fear of success, or perhaps more appropriately the pressure of success, has spoken. Many fear failure, of humiliation, rejection and of unworthiness. However, once you steam past that and move into the stratosphere of triumph and glory, individual and team success, you enter another world; the expectant world. Basic failing is actually a very acceptable human trait. What isn't is the lack of courage to get up and try again. Then after a few attempts, a certain amount of learning should kick in and the performance - whatever it is that you are doing - should improve, and the journey goes on. The butt kicker sometimes is that in life's decision-making eyes, whatever you are doing might not be good enough at a given point, and therefore we are stood down for someone else.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the $64,000 question. The very question that faced Swann when the Ashes were mercifully and brutally extracted from England's once-firm grip. In the aftermath of the urn being handed over in Perth, and the mauling that Shane Watson dished out to Swann, and George Bailey to James Anderson, came the searching, gnarly, nagging question into the mind of Swann himself: "Oh my god, what's next?"

We have heard the rationale from him about nothing left to give, allowing another to feel the privilege. We respect it, it's his decision and his fine career prompts us all to listen and respect. But do we believe? I believe that the fear of success took its toll. It's the eroded belief, the exhausted energy, that called Swann out and said: "I am sick of having to succeed. Let someone else do it! Let someone else chase the figures that I was expected to produce as the lone spinner. I am done." This I believe.

It takes an extraordinary athlete with an exceptional mind to keep producing great feats. Geniuses like Tendulkar, Warne, McGrath, Dravid, Ponting and Kallis, to name a bunch, all showed an amazing appetite and a groundedness to resist the pressures of success and go into the twilight, and even long into the night. It's a hard one. And some folk, like those six mentioned, have the innate immunity to rise above any fear and to feel the love instead. That's why they are the chosen ones. For the rest, like Swann, who fork out an honest and, at times, exquisite period of very-goodness, we simply reach a point of breaking strain, a need to go home and rest a weary and sore head. And that is okay too. We are all made differently. The mind-and-body connection gets you in the end. In the cases of those like Swann, who have decided to go unexpectedly in the middle of an intensely fervid battle, well, it does make you ask why.

So – in game and in life – ‘quitting’ is never an option !!

Martin Crowe played his last Test at Cuttack in Nov 1995 and his last ODI at Nagpur in the same month….. sadly during the lunch interval, a part of the stadium collapsed, killing 9 people and injuring 70 people. The match continued in the afternoon, as the organizers feared a riot from the crowd if the match was called off. !!! how sad and how inhumane…..

15 years later,  Martin Crowe  announced his desire to return to club cricket at ripe age of 48 but was forced to retire hurt 3 balls into his first innings.   Crowe pulled a muscle while batting for Cornwall against Parnell on November 19, 2011.   A jerk of the hip, a single to midwicket adding to his countless runs was the style of this high scoring right hander in his hay days.. he was known to rotate the strike, run so well and keep the score card ticking all the time but while getting off the mark in that match, he pulled a thigh muscle running a single into covers.   He was quoted as writing - "I pulled a hip flexor in July, a hamstring in August, a groin in October and now a thigh, all upper left leg, all compensating for a dodgy arthritic right knee. No tears, but frustrated after a lot of hard work getting ready." He had said he saw his comeback as a means of self-motivation and a tool to get fit - and also an opportunity to score the 392 runs he needs to tally 20,000 first-class runs. That was not to be !!

In Oct 1995, he was at Chennai playing the test under Lee Germon……….. it was October and the Test came two days after a total eclipse of the sun, which had brought the country to a halt.  It was no match at all ………. As it rained and rained through out.  At only 71.1 overs, it was the shortest Test in terms of actual playing time ever staged in India;  everyone cursed the Board’s  wisdom of playing a match in Chennai during the monsoon.   On day 1 play began at 2.30 p.m., there was no further play until the fourth day, although the sun shone brightly on the second. The teams suggested calling off the Test and playing a limited-overs match on the final day, but the host association scotched these thoughts, citing its legal obligations to those who bought season tickets for a five-day game. Ironically,  fifth day was abandoned too. India ended at 144/2 – Sachin who remained unbeaten on 52 was the man of the (no) match…

In Oct  2012, it was revealed that Crowe had been diagnosed with Lymphoma. He blamed the illness on a failing immune system, weakened by various illnesses picked up while touring the world in the 1980s and 1990s.  In June  2013, Crowe announced that he is free of cancer on Campbell Live, but he will cut his ties with cricket, as he was a self-proclaimed "recovering addict to cricket, much like an alcoholic". Crowe says he wore a 'mask' from the age of 22, due to high expectations, but at the age of 51 was happy to 'look at the real me'.

Most ordinary people do wear a mask and are unable to look at the real self, fearing the outside World………….. Crowe’s life and revelations offer great opportunity of learning.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

28th Dec 2013. 

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