Eight seasons as Otago’s wicketkeeper, four First-Class matches for New Zealand but, in his own words, there was “always someone just in front” of Marty Croy. In this week’s Limited Overs interview he shares his career reflections with Devon Mace.
Why cricket – and why wicket-keeping?
I suppose, for me, my father was a bit of a cricket nut. So I just picked up the bat when I was three or four, I don’t know whether that was out of instinct or because it was stuck in my hand, I’m not quite sure. But like all kids, loved every minute of it. I used to bowl and bat, and then I was about standard three or four (year five or six) and the form ones and twos (year seven and eight) didn’t have a wicket-keeper. So they asked if I’d go up a grade and wicket-keep for them. And I did that, and kind of never really looked back. I enjoyed it, and just carried on – there was no one else to do it, so I kept filling the role.
You came through the Northern Districts age-group structures, and then New Zealand Under-19, and did pretty well, but you had a pathway that was blocked by the fact that Robbie Hart was the incumbent, and there were about a million other wicket-keepers around.
So there was Hoppy [Gareth Hopkins], there was me, there was Harty [Robbie Hart] and then there was Martyn Sigley. For me, they were blocks in some regard to age group teams. I made ND Primary Schools in form one and then form two (year seven and eight), but even then not as a keeper, I was in there as a batter. There was a young guy named Darrel Hadley that was selected both years. But it’s been the story of my life, of my cricket career, I suppose – there’s always been someone just in front of me. So yeah, I moved down to Otago, having played for Thames Valley and a lot of District Association cricket in my age-group for Midlands, and then headed down to Dunedin in ’94 on the back of a youth tour to Pakistan. That New Zealand youth tour didn’t go so badly, and Robbie Lawson said ‘come down to Dunedin, Otago’s looking like they might need a keeper’. And so I headed down with no promises, and played a few club games and a few Otago warm-up games, and didn’t look back from there.
At the time did you see yourself as more of a batsman, more of a wicket-keeper, or just whatever the team needed at the time?
Oh nah, I was definitely a keeper. But one thing I did get in my first season, I got exposed to a bit more batting – I got shoved up the order, and got more opportunities in that top-order. I was batting three on occasions, so that was cool. To be fair, I think I never, ever really fulfilled my potential as a batsman as well as I possibly should have, to be honest. It’s one of my biggest regrets in cricket, I just didn’t put the time into my batting as I should have, I probably put a bit more into my keeping. Not that I was a Brendon McCullum, by any means, but I think I could’ve done a lot better with my batting than I did.
In terms of that batting ability, on First Class debut batting at number three you came out and made 61, which wasn’t a bad knock in your first game.
Yeah, that’s right, that was cool. First game, you always have those doubts about ‘should I being doing this, am I good enough to be here?’ so having that performance first up was really pleasing, and gave you that relief that you can do this. I had a sort of similar scenario, being put in at three in my second one-dayer, and didn’t set the world on fire but had a reasonable knock against Auckland. I went from number 10 the week before to number three, and I think I made 70-odd. From a confidence perspective, that made you feel like you could actually foot it at that level.
And then at the time you were also in the New Zealand Academy set-up, so was that something that helped you with the development of your cricket?
Yeah, definitely. We were the first intake out at Lincoln, and it was great. It was a great opportunity. The biggest thing to come out of that were the friendships you make, you lived there for six months with a group of guys, and there were a core group of guys that I’m still pretty good mates with today. That was probably the overriding thing, it came down to that. But it was a cool opportunity to hone your skills a little bit, and get exposed to coaching a little bit more on a full-time basis. It was really beneficial, really beneficial.
In 1995-96 you missed quite a lot of cricket, with Shane Robinson taking the gloves, but did play enough to fit in your first century, with 104 against CD in the same innings that Robbie Lawson made a double, and Richard King hit 117.
That season pretty much mirrored most of my career. I missed most of the season with injury, and as I say, story of my career with back injuries, and a pretty stuffed up ankle. Which, ultimately, was pretty much the reason I stopped playing at 27 or 28, that was primarily injury driven. But yeah, that innings with Robbie was the highlight of that season. Bit of a slow grind, but yeah, a nice memory that’s for sure. And my only First Class hundred, so I definitely remember bits and pieces of it.
As your only First Class hundred, I imagine it’s nice to have that one to look back on?
Absolutely, it’s nice to be able to say that you have got one. It would’ve been nice to have gotten a couple more, but such is life.
You were often kind of thrown around the order at that point, from number three, to opening, to being as far down as number nine. So where did you feel the most comfortable with the bat?
I really enjoyed batting high, opening or number three was quite good. Opening you could get straight out there, number three you’re in pretty quickly. As you know, the more you think about it and the more you worry about it, the less likely you are to have success. The sooner you can get yourself in, the better tended to be how I felt. But I don’t think I was a genuine number three by any stretch of the imagination, I could’ve been better with my batting but I was probably pretty fortunate with the team that we had that I got given that opportunity. The way cricket’s played today I’d probably be lucky to bat at ten to be honest, but seven was a comfortable position for me. In one-day cricket I felt like I’d just started to work out my game in my last season, batting at seven. And when I say that, that’s in the context of the way the game was played then. It’s a different beast now to what it was back then.
The season after your century, 1996-97, Otago made the four-day final but ended up being on the receiving end of Canterbury’s 777, followed by Mike Austen making the slowest ever century. It must go down as the most boring game you’ve ever played?
It was pretty hard work, those were long days. I think we were playing 112-over days. There was some pretty entertaining batting to watch, that’s for sure. Harry, Chris Harris, got 160 or something I think. It was one of those wickets at Lancaster Park that, by the second innings, became one of those roads that break up, and you bowl straight – like a Nathan Astle, bowling wicket-to-wicket – and the ball just goes a bit up and down, and I think we were rolled for not many. We were just mentally knackered at that stage as well. So it was a bit depressing.
I know some of the Canterbury players are still a little bit pissed off that they decided to enforce the follow-on and let you guys off the hook a bit.
Yeah, I know there were a few that were a bit annoyed by that. But that was alright, gave us something else to do.
Then the following season, ’97-98, you were selected in the Southern Conference side that did well, so it must have felt a little bit like you were having some faith shown in you by those above?
That was good, that was a really cool concept actually. I think it was Bangladesh that season and then Pakistan A the next, there was a four-way competition. But it was good, it was another step-up, and it was good cricket. I can’t remember too much to be honest, but it was a good way of doing it with six teams becoming three, it just strengthened the teams. It raised the standard, which is good for everyone.
It all kind of led up to 1999, which was the big year of your career, being standby for the World Cup and then going on the tour of England.
Yeah, that was certainly a highlight. It was great, and it was on the back of that conference series in that November-December period in ’98. I kept well, I had a good series, I was really happy with how that all went. Steve Rixon had a big part to play in that as well, from a coaching perspective. I really valued his time, and I must have made a bit of progress just with the attention he gave me. There was the World Cup, being on standby which I just sat at home for, and then headed to the UK after that to join up with the side there, which was really cool. It was amazing actually, a great opportunity.
You were effectively selected over Robbie Hart, who was a little bit disappointed in the media at the time – I imagine it was interesting kind of jumping ahead of the guy that you’d been stuck behind six years earlier?
At that stage – as soon as I went down to Otago – we were playing at the same environment in the same competition, and I made a few teams leading up to that ahead of Robbie as well, so I didn’t see it as being selected in that team over and above, there were five other keepers that I’d been selected over and above of as well, so I didn’t see it being just Robbie. I do remember he was slightly annoyed about it, but such is sport.
With the tour of England, although you didn’t play a Test you played some of the county games and got to experience the team environment of what is still probably New Zealand’s greatest cricketing moment.
It was fantastic. You’re dead right, it’s a unique country to tour. India’s one place where they’re really passionate, but all the traditions are held to the nth degree in England, which is quite amazing actually. You get to play at some pretty cool grounds that you’d only heard about, which was fantastic. And then to be at Lord’s on the balcony to watch those winning runs, it was pretty special. That was certainly the highlight of my career, without a doubt, and that whole series is probably the highlight of my career and I wasn’t even picked.
And then the following year you went back to the UK, this time with the New Zealand A side that played against a series of county teams and the West Indies.
That was a full-on trip, it was quite different from the year before where you had a lot of downtime between games, and during Test matches I’d go with the other players who hadn’t made the team to play a one- or two-dayer. Whereas with this trip with were playing every day, it was almost one day off and then we’d go again. It was busy, but it was a great trip, some good players on that tour. It was a springboard for the likes of Mark Richardson and Scott Styris into the international arena, they played really well. I enjoyed that, but again I finished that tour with an injury, and that was probably the beginning of the end for me, to be honest. Because I tried to play the next season, but it just wasn’t working. That was definitely the beginning of the end.
Did you enjoy being in a bit of a senior leadership position in that team, being an incumbent Test squad member?
Yeah absolutely, it was good. We had some young fellas in there, guys like Michael Papps, Aaron Redmond, Bruce Martin. We had some young guys in there, but then the likes of Glen Sulzberger, Mark Richardson, Scotty Styris, we were the elder statesmen at 26 or 27 or whatever we were. It was nice to be able to impart what knowledge you had to those younger guys, and it certainly gave you an appreciation of playing like a senior player as well. I enjoyed that.
As you say, from this point on your career started to wind down, work took over and injuries took their toll, so it must have been a bit disappointing to be going out so young?
It was my own choice, I was just fortunate to have some other options. Cricket’s a unique game, with most sports you can get through 80 minutes and endure the pain, that adrenaline means you don’t feel it half the time. But with cricket you’re on the field for six, seven hours and then have to get up and do it the next day, and then the next day. It’s pretty hard work, and when that starts impacting on your performance and you feel like you can’t move or play like you want to, for me that was like ‘I’m not enjoying this at all’. I kind of just drifted out, I never announced anything, which on reflection was probably poor, but it was me not really being 100 percent sure if I did or didn’t want to keep playing. I didn’t want to make any bold announcement and then a year later decide to make a comeback! But as it played out, I just got away from the game. I still had some tenuous links to it through a bit of coaching, and I had a role to play on the board of the players’ association as well, which was enjoyable. So I’ve kept some links to the game, but they’ve been pretty tenuous which is fine for me. That’s kind of how I wanted it.
In 2002 you took seven catches in an innings in what was your second to last First Class match ever, which would have been a nice thing to tick off as a wicket-keeper?
From memory none of them were too difficult, to be honest. They were all pretty regulation. It’s just one of those where you’re in the right place at the right time. There’s other games I can reflect on where I’ve taken one or two dismissals that stick out, but I couldn’t even remember one dismissal from that game. I really couldn’t. Other than the fact that, yeah, it was a record, so that was nice.
And then pretty much as soon as your career came to a close, the Test keeping spot opened up with Adam Parore deciding to retire, so is that at all a disappointment, that you didn’t quite stick around long enough to have a crack at that spot?
Not really, because like I said there wasn’t much I could change with my situation. It would’ve been nice with a different time and different place, but I certainly don’t look back with any regret of ‘what if this, what if that’. It was just what happened at the time, it gave other people opportunities and good on them.
Your career was obviously through the Great Otago Title Drought, which must be a bit disappointing – to not be able to reflect back on titles.
Yeah, it was disappointing. We were kind of robbed with our only title. That was in Cricket Max, it was the first season of it, and we played CD and it was a three-game competition that was being held over a weekend. We won the first game, and we actually won the second game, and they went back to check the video because we lost by one run or something, and they checked some TV footage and there was a four that hadn’t been signalled a four. They could’ve made a call right there and then to give us the four, and we would’ve won the game, it would’ve been two-nil and the next day’s play would’ve been not needed. But Martin Crowe, because it was TV, wanted to make it exciting and make everyone watch the next day. So CD were given that victory, and they won the next day. That’s the only thing that’s probably bitter from my playing days, it irks me to be honest.
But you’re right around the whole title drought, and that was indicative I think of what you need in a team to perform. We had some really good individual players, good young players, but we had a lack of experienced, senior players, that could show young guys what needed to happen, and to get you out of difficult situations. In situations where we looked like we were going to win, we invariably found ways to lose, and that comes from experience, it comes from wise heads just providing a bit of guidance. We never had that in that team, particularly in one-day cricket. That was just an illustration of what’s required in an effective team, is that reliance on a mix of youth and experience, and we had a lot of youth and a lot of good players, but none the wise older heads.
And then looking over your career as a whole, are there any memories that stick out to you as being particularly fond ones?
Going on that youth tour to Pakistan was pretty memorable, that was my first real national team at a significant level, and it was traveling to a country that was incredibly diverse. It was so different to what I was used to in playing conditions, climate conditions, just everything. And made some really good, life-long friends from that trip. So that does stand out. That England tour, being picked for the Blackcaps is obviously a highlight. And probably my very first game.
Those are probably the things I hold most fondly. But the thing that jumps out for me that I’ll hold onto are those friendships, which sounds very clichéd, but ultimately they’re what I’ve enjoyed and will continue to enjoy the most.