x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Retired New Zealand bowler Chris Martin will stand out for his actions

His batting was comical and bowling approach peculiar but that will not deny the Black Cap a place in history, writes Osman Samiuddin. Videos

Chris Martin had a unique jump-start action and leaped high without losing his poise in the final delivery stand that allowed him to get enough bounce from the wicket to trouble many batsmen. William West / AFP
Chris Martin had a unique jump-start action and leaped high without losing his poise in the final delivery stand that allowed him to get enough bounce from the wicket to trouble many batsmen. William West / AFP

The first time I saw Chris Martin bowl was from a hotel in Multan very late one night when I should have been asleep.

It was March 2004 and India were playing their first Test in Pakistan since late 1989.

It was a huge tour of which five one-day internationals (ODI) had been played and thousands of cross-border friendships revived, renewed or made afresh; love, peace and nostalgia hung in the air wherever India went.

The Multan Test, however, was a comedown. The ODI series had been exciting in the way they are: lots of runs, close finishes, attractive batting, some good fast bowling, packed houses everywhere.

Now this first Test in Multan, in a brand new stadium with no crowds at all. The pitch, bald, brown and dispiriting, was basically an open invitation to score runs.

Two of the world's fastest bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, looked as threatening as a sponge. This was not how fast bowling was meant to be: futile, weak, killed by the surface and bowled to nobody listening or watching.

So that night, Martin, who retired last week, appeared on television.

Where the New Zealander was bowling - at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, against South Africa - seemed so much friendlier to his kind.

The outfield looked greener, the skies bluer, the clouds whiter, the stands fuller. The pitch seemed to say that it did not mind if fast bowlers ran in and hurled themselves on to it to gain an advantage.

It seemed to say that it might even cede them that advantage. And Martin was using it beautifully.

He was getting bounce and movement and when his deliveries came off the surface, they seemed to zip off even quicker; much of his bowling was in the mid-to-late 130s kph, but it looked pacier.

He had no hair, was an awkward mover and lanky in a strangely upright way.

If you put a scarf and an overcoat on him, he could look like a thespian who had just walked out of the theatre after a performance.

The leap in his action was exactly as leaps in bowling actions should not be for a watcher: too readied, too practised, too stiff, but almost purely because of the height he reached and the poise he maintained once airborne, it was impossible to not watch again and again irrespective of what was happening after he delivered (the Indian bowler Ashok Dinda, with whom Martin shares not only a leap, but an affinity for headbands, has similar appeal).

Martin picked up seven wickets in that Test and had taken eleven the one before, the only occasion New Zealand have beaten South Africa at home; this is where, I thought, fast bowling should be, not in the dregs of Multan, but there.

In the middle of the biggest series Pakistan had hosted in years, maybe decades, Martin made me feel that night like I was in the wrong place.

It was then that he began to assert a degree of control over Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis; they were not quite his bunnies but he dismissed the former eight times in Tests (more than anyone else) and the latter six. Not bunnies but solid proof of how skilled he was.

He rarely stood out like he did in that series again, though he came close against India at home once. But towering individuality was never quite his thing, a state perfectly apposite in a side whose entire ethos has historically centred around the sum being greater than its constituent parts.

Quietly, gradually, he kept taking wickets, ticking the Kiwis over, especially at home with a new ball in hand, where he was a different prospect to what he was with a less polished ball on slower, lower surfaces in the subcontinent.

Even here though he had his day, once reducing India to 65 for six at Ahmedabad. In effort he was always one and the same.

Against this first impression came subsequently the burgeoning fame of his tail-end batting, which was so potently hapless it began to overshadow his bowling.

He, of course, played up to this impending cult-hood, happily endorsing the Learn to Bat Like Chris Martin spoof video.

Maybe he did not mind that it overshadowed his bowling. He was surprisingly awful only because he existed in a world where genuine tail-enders were dying away, replaced by lower-order batsmen (playing only 20 ODIs was similarly anachronistic).

He should consider himself fortunate to average 2.36 with the bat in 71 Tests; had he played in the preceding generation, with real bunny-killers such as Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Allan Donald and Curtly Ambrose around he would have been lucky to maintain that.

But this never sat right; he was more than good enough as a bowler to be celebrated for that rather than the ironic appreciation of his batsmanship.

It is entirely typical that as he goes, New Zealand might not really feel his absence, not with their current riches in pace bowling.

But for his place in their cricket history, least of all as their third-highest Test wicket-taker ever, he is not going anywhere.


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