December 18, 2021

My first helmet was white.

I did not want a helmet. I did not see the need. But I was told I had to have one. I said fine, but I will only wear it if it was white.

Martin Crowe wore a white helmet.

In 1992, as a 12 year old captain, I opened the bowling with a spinner. There was no need. There was no overlying tactics I thought could work, I just did it.

Martin Crowe opened with a spinner.

I started wearing a thigh pad. I didn’t really need to, but I wanted to. I had to find the right one. It had to look a certain way on my thigh. It had to look large, and square, and like a knight going into battle. Godlike.

Martin Crowe had a thigh pad like that.

All my cricket shirts were short sleeved. I wanted one long sleeve shirt. I also wanted a white headband, to go under my helmet. We didn’t have the money for these frivolous things.

These Martin Crowe things.

To me, and many of my friends, Martin Crowe was the coolest man alive. There is nothing his cousin Russell could ever do on a screen that would ever equate to what Martin did on the field, for us.

We were Australian, we were supposed to patronise him, or see him as the enemy, we couldn’t, he was Martin Crowe, he was perfect. He was our hero.

Martin Crowe was like a beautifully illustrated coaching manual come to life. He managed to play forward, and still late. He rotated the strike right up until the moment there was a ball he could hit for four, and then it went. His batting was calm and complete. There was no histrionics. He wasn’t a man who got sucked in to conflicts, he just batted, perfectly.

When Martin Crowe pushes through point, you will feel like you have seen Jesus singing Johnny Cash covers in star wars cantina.

When reverse swing became a big deal through the skill of Pakistan, it was Martin Crowe who worked it out in a way that no one else could. They would bowl faster, they would swing the ball more, and he would just continue to beat them. They had this magical mystery pace ball, and him, like, some guru, just handled it, dismissed it, and looked beautiful while doing so.

His batting average was 45, but he didn’t bat in a soft era, he batted in what was one of the hardest. He had to face the West Indies at their best. Willis and Botham. The Pakistanis and their swing. Lillee and Warne. And then the South Africans showed up. Bowling has rarely been better. Crowe was there for all of it. Playing forward, playing late, playing perfect.

When Crowe brought up his hundred in the 92 World Cup against the Australians, an innings of straight drives you’d cry about and pull shots you’d want to be able to tell your grandkids about, the crowd swarmed on. But these weren’t just drunken morons, this was kids. So many kids. They loved him. I loved him. We were all right to do so.

The Gabba Test was one of the first Tests I really remember. My dad had pulled me in front of the TV to see Hadlee, to see his god. But it was where I saw mine.

You know what Crowe did. He was perfect, for 328 balls he batted, he hit the ball through point like a poet, flicked off his pads like the ball deserved it, drove as nature intended it and pulled with complete control. Crowe ended on 188. Hadlee’s nine for couldn’t do what one shot from Crowe did to me.

Years later I was in Mumbai for work, I was waiting for someone in the lobby of a hotel and I heard, “Kimber, Kimber”. I looked over and this white bald man was running across the lobby. I had no idea who this was, and then suddenly, in front of me, was my hero.

“I knew it was you because of the cap, it’s so great to get to meet you”.

I think I underwhelmed him somewhat. As I could barely speak. My hero had run up to me. It was supposed to be the other way around. Eventually I told him that I wore a white helmet like him as a kid, and he just got shy and changed the subject. He told me he had read everything I had ever written on cricket with balls. I instantly wanted to go upstairs and edit all of it to make it better, not perfect, but as close as I could get to it.

I heard him talking to a friend of mine, the creator of cricinfo Simon King, and within minutes he was like an open wound, so honest, overwhelming honesty about his biggest failures, personal and cricket. He also chatted to Simon’s wife, an American, who he was as open with, and as honest with, and nice to, even though she had no idea why the rest of us were acting so weird with him.

She later told me she went upstairs and searched him on Wikipedia, and she couldn’t believe it was the same guy she had just met, he was so normal and nice. I told her that Wikipedia couldn’t even begin to adequately describe how most of us felt about him. But she already knew that just from our faces. Every moment we were with him.

Right after the World Cup final we were filming Two Men Out next to the MCG. A man ran over to stand between us, it happened a lot outside grounds when you had a camera. Usually I would shut them down pretty quickly, and I angrily turned to do so. But, it wasn’t a man. It was my hero.

He wanted to watch us film the show. His team had just lost, and he was upset, but he was still excited, to be out, to be here, to be alive. We asked him to film a skit, he did it. He was great.

Just before he left he found time to ask my wife how she could possibly handle living with me. It was textbook banter, you could tell he had used that line 1000s of times before. But like his shots through point, it didn’t matter if it was the first one or the last one, it just mattered that he did it perfectly.

It was his last bit of energy, he was spent, you could see it, even through the happiness. I knew that as he walked towards the Yarra that night I would probably never see him again. I was happy, I had just spent time with my hero again, and I was sad, as I never would again.

Every couple of weeks I thought about sending him an email of the Martin Crowe chapter from my book. But I never could, it was good, but it wasn’t good enough.

It wasn’t Martin Crowe good. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t worthy of the hero who wore the white helmet. It wasn’t perfect.