Chris Martin - The gentleman fast bowler
What could be the uncanny connection between New Zealand’s third highest wicket-taker in Tests, Chris Martin, and Scotland national cricket league?
Well, it was the league where Martin kickstarted his fledgling cricketing career by playing a season of cricket in Scotland in ’99. Chris Martin’s is a fabled story of a man who from humble beginnings of playing for Canterbury under 20s, and Scotland national league, surged his way up the ladder to become the heartbeat of New Zealand’s pace attack.
There is no doubt that the man from Christchurch, Chris Martin, has done yeoman services to New Zealand’s cricket. Every time, Martin was laid low by either injuries or bad form, he was able to shrug it off by steering masterfully around it. He invariably found a way to come out of the deep abyss through doggedness, tenacity, common sense, fortitude, and having that unwavering willpower to bleed to his bones for the sake of his country.
It was at the dawn of the new century in 2000, when New Zealand’s cricket team was about to embark on a trip to the Rainbow Nation to lock horns with South Africa. Obviously, South Africa being a formidable force to reckon with, were the clear favourites to bestrode the Kiwis at home.
But Fleming and his band of boys must have backed themselves to give the pillaging South Africans a run for their money. Unfortunately, during that ill-fated tour of South Africa, New Zealand’s gun-bowlers suffered injuries. Charismatic all-rounder, Cairns, as well as Nash, Allott and company, all had to forcefully pull-out of the tour due to injuries.
Fortunately, for New Zealand’s management at that time, their academy side was playing in the invitational Buchi Babu tournament in India. It meant that even during the off-season, New Zealand’s second string bowlers weren’t short of match practice. With their hands tied behind the back, New Zealand’s think-tank had no other option, but to call up the unheralded Chris Martin who was then playing for New Zealand’s academy side.
They fielded a very inexperienced bowling unit in that series in South Africa, consisting of O’ Conner, Tuffey/Walmesley, Martin and Walker.
In such adverse circumstances, Chris Martin, like a knight in shining armour, and brimming with confidence, took up the gauntlet of bowling to South Africa’s famed batting line-up by performing well. The tall and wiry Chris Martin, with a giant leap before delivering the ball, made everyone sit-up and take notice of his superb control. He also showcased his ability to extract seam movement, mostly into the batsman at decent clicks.
With the emergence of Shane Bond, Tuffey, Oram, coupled with the veteran, Cairns, who was making a comeback into the New Zealand set-up, Martin found it hard to break into the squad. Bond, with his express pace, was the new trump card. Chris Martin, who ran up to the bowling crease with a farmer like-gait, seemed to be put to pastures by the selectors.
Instead of drowning in a pool of depression, Martin rebounded by making his mark in the domestic circuit. It was in ’03/’04 when it became crystal clear that Shane Bond was struggling to survive the rigours of international cricket, as he was down with a career threatening back injury. It resulted in New Zealand’s selectors having a second look at Martin for the series against South Africa in 03/04.
The untiring Martin grabbed that golden opportunity with both hands, as he roared back into the team with match figures of 11 for 180 against South Africa at Auckland. He had South Africa’s one-drop batsman, Rudolph especially tied in knots in the first innings of that Test by generating prodigious swing.
The two card trick of bowling the away-swinger to left-hander, followed by the one that swings back into the left-handed batsman troubled Rudolph to no end. He finally delivered the coup de grace by removing the southpaw. This magical performance by Martin at Auckland helped New Zealand to clinch a rare Test win against their formidable foes.
Even in the final Test of the series, he took a 5-for, but a resolute defiant century by South Africa’s captain Smith meant that New Zealand couldn’t complete a historic Test series win. It is safe to say that the series against South Africa was the zenith of Martin’s career.