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Farewell to the Phantom, Chris Martin

Michael Jones | | Updated: October 7, 2015, 4:41 PM IST

Chris Martin bows out of international cricket, having held New Zealand's seam attack together for the decade following the retirement of Chris Cairns. Since making his debut against South Africa in 2000, Martin has picked up 233 Test wickets, while no other seamer from the country has managed even 100 over the same period.

His achievements with the ball, however, were largely overshadowed by the facet of his game which endeared him to neutral fans the world over: his sheer ineptness with the bat. The sight of Martin walking to the crease was always a sign to opposing bowlers that an easy wicket was on the cards, and to the opening batsmen that they would soon be required to pad up. That he finished with an average as high as 2.36 was primarily due to remaining not out in exactly half his innings (his partners usually assumed that he wouldn't last long, so they might as well hit out while they could); he made 36 ducks, was left unbeaten on 0 a further 28 times, and reached double figures only once. He blamed his lack of ability on the fact that he'd always had to cycle to practice - thus missing out on the chance to learn to bat, because he couldn't fit the bat on his bike.

Martin's career got off to a promising start, with 3/89 and 1/18 at Bloemfontein including the wickets of Gary Kirsten and Jacques Kallis; he followed that up with another five wickets at Port Elizabeth, and finished the series with 11 at the useful average of 26; he also hung around for half an hour in his debut innings, making 7. It proved a false dawn - he only exceeded that score once in the remainder of his career. The South Africa series was followed by a one-off Test against Zimbabwe, and home series versus Pakistan; Martin finished his first season of Test cricket with 28 wickets. He was also beginning to cement his reputation as a batsman: after following his debut success with 5* in the second Test against South Africa, he wasn't required to bat in the Zimbabwe match, and scored three consecutive ducks against Pakistan, thus beginning a sequence in which he failed to score a Test run for three years. It was a lean period with the ball, too: in his next four matches (all against different opposition, as he was in and out of the team) he took only six wickets, and after returning figures of 1/108 (and a pair) in Lahore as Inzamam-ul-Haq put the Kiwis to the sword, he was dropped.

He returned to the fold at Auckland in March 2004, with South Africa the opposition once again. Martin's response was to put in the performance of his career: in the first innings he decimated the middle order to finish with 6/76, then after Scott Styris and Chris Cairns had given New Zealand a massive lead, he followed up by dismissing Graeme Smith with the first ball of the second innings on his way to taking another five wickets, finishing with 11/180 and the Man of the Match award as his team recorded their first (and to date only) home Test win against South Africa. He took another five in the first innings at Wellington, although it wasn't enough to prevent the visitors levelling the series. In pushing Andre Nel for a single, Martin registered his first Test run in his home country, and his first anywhere since his debut series. The tour of England which followed was not a great success, either on a team or personal level: New Zealand lost 3-0, Martin took only six wickets in the first two matches before limping off the field at Trent Bridge with a hamstring strain in his second over. At Headingley he had the novel experience of batting at number 10, but only because Daniel Vettori was injured: no-one ever went in after Martin in a Test.

After a lean time in home and away series against Australia - a team he never enjoyed much success against - he was back among the wickets at home against Sri Lanka in 2005, accounting for four of the top six in a high-scoring draw at Napier before scything through the top order again (including the wickets of Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan for 48 between them) to set up an innings victory at Wellington. With innings of 1*, 4* and 4* in the series, he started towards what would become a somewhat curious record: in ten innings against Sri Lanka in his career, he notched up 15 runs - and had no defined average, because he finished not out every time. No other player has managed more than five innings against the same opposition without being dismissed.

As his reputation for consistently good performances with the ball was cemented, so too was his reputation for consistently abysmal showings with the bat; his aggregate of Test wickets was well ahead of his tally of runs, and it was to stay that way for the rest of his career. By the time Bangladesh toured New Zealand in January 2008, it was seven years since Martin's Test debut and he had yet to improve on the 7 he'd made in his first innings. He was able to laugh at himself, though, and even produced a "Learn to bat like Chris Martin" video in which he advised anyone aiming to emulate his footwork to tie their shoelaces together. Bangladesh's bowling attack was not the most menacing in world cricket, and Martin confided to Iain O'rien before the series that he reckoned this was his best chance to reach double figures. He started the match by dismissing the top four in the order as the visitors were rolled over for 137, and New Zealand had already taken a lead of more than 200 by the time Martin was called on to bat. After surviving a leg before shout second ball, he hit Shahadat Hossain for two consecutive fours to pass his previous career best, then reached 10 with a single past point off Sajidul Islam, to cheers from the crowd more often reserved for three figures than two. He added a further couple of singles before running out of partners when O'Brien was caught behind off Mashrafe Mortaza - no doubt leaving Martin to wonder how many more he might have scored if he'd had someone reliable at the other end. Back in his more usual role, he took another two wickets in the second innings as New Zealand won comfortably.

Martin was steady, if unspectacular, in the home series against England which followed. In the last match at Napier he struck early in both innings, dismissing Alastair Cook for 2 in the first and Michael Vaughan for 4 in the second, but his efforts weren't enough to stop the visitors declaring their second innings to set a target of 553. New Zealand had reached 347/9 when Martin walked out to join Tim Southee on the latter's Test debut. He had to call for the physio after being hit on the helmet first ball by James Anderson, but decided to continue - and witnessed from a distance of 22 yards a spectacular display of hitting rarely matched in a Test, and certainly never by a number 10 batsman making his debut. Southee started off with two sixes off Anderson, then hit Monty Panesar out of the attack after carting him for 41 off two overs. Martin joined in the fun with a four off Anderson to bring up the fifty partnership, Southee added a couple more sixes off Stuart Broad before, with the record for the fastest Test century well within his sights, the match was ended when Martin was yorked by Ryan Sidebottom. Southee finished with 77* off 40 balls - more than Martin had managed in 40 matches to that point.

He continued to anchor the attack through home series against India and Pakistan in 2009, although New Zealand lost the first series and could only draw the second - then at Ahmedabad in November 2010, for a few overs he touched heights which most bowlers can only dream of. With both teams passing 450 in the first innings and India not beginning their second until shortly before tea on the fourth day, the draw looked a formality - until Martin struck. He had Gautam Gambhir caught behind off the third ball of the innings, before Virender Sehwag was run out at the other end. On the stroke of tea Rahul Dravid edged one behind, and India spent the interval on 2/3 - Martin 2.5-2-0-2. Half an hour earlier he had reached 3* in New Zealand's innings - more than Gambhir, Sehwag and Dravid managed between them. Nor was he finished: although Sachin Tendulkar took 10 off his first full over after the interval, Martin bowled Tendulkar in his next over then added the wicket of Suresh Raina to leave India 15/5 (Martin four for 10). While Martin was rested, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni started a recovery effort, but when he came back he soon bowled Dhoni: 65/6 (Martin five for 16). Harbhajan Singh's maiden Test century the following day ensured India held on for the draw, but rarely has any bowler decimated such a star-studded batting line-up on their home turf the way Martin did that day.

Martin's batting continued to delight fans, and a sense of anticipation built up as he approached the milestone of 100 Test runs. He started the home series against Pakistan in January 2011 on 97; in the first innings at Hamilton he was left on 0* having only faced two balls before losing his partner, but in the second he drove Umar Gul through the covers for three and the crowd, temporarily forgetting that New Zealand were on the brink of a heavy defeat, rose to acclaim him. A duller batsman might have scored a Test century in a matter of hours; Martin had taken ten years.

Later that year, New Zealand toured Australia; after the visitors were beaten comprehensively at Brisbane, the series moved to Hobart, where they were on the back foot again after being bowled out for 150. Martin struck back: he removed Hughes, Warner and Khawaja cheaply as Australia stuttered to 35/4 and New Zealand gained a slim first innings lead. In the second innings he joined Trent Boult at 203/9, a lead of 217. Although Martin made only two, he hung around long enough for the partnership to add 23 - which proved crucial as New Zealand went on to win by seven runs, levelling the series with their first Test win in Australia for 26 years. Martin made Phil Hughes his bunny in the series, dismissing him for 10, 7, 4 and 20 in two matches - and setting a first in the process, as every one of the four dismissals was caught at slip by Martin Guptill. Other bowlers had dismissed a batsman in every innings of a series, but never caught by the same fielder every time.

After picking up match figures of 8/31 in a rout of Zimbabwe at the start of 2012, Martin had a leaner time against South Africa and West Indies, and with Southee, Boult and Doug Bracewell - all aged under 25 - pressing their claims for a place, his days in international cricket appeared to be numbered. He was dropped after an innings defeat at Hyderabad, before earning a surprise recall at Cape Town a few weeks after his 38th birthday - and finding himself walking out to bat before lunch on the first day after Vernon Philander swung a wrecking ball through New Zealand's batting line-up; he survived two balls to finish on 0* as the visitors folded for 45. Despite the useful figures of 3/63 in another innings defeat, including bowling Robin Peterson with what turned out to be his last ball in Tests, he was dropped again; when he wasn't selected either for the home series or the tour of England, it was clear that the selectors were looking to the future and Martin no longer featured in their plans. He could leave with his head held high: comical batting aside, he had more Test wickets to his name than any paceman from his country bar Richard Hadlee. There can be no better illustration of his value to the team.
First Published: July 7, 2013, 1:03 PM IST

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