|Image source: Espncricinfo|
There was a certain apprehension in the air, Narine had done well against the Kiwi batsmen in the past, boasting some unbelievable numbers. The Antigua wicket needed an anchor batsman for NZ to stand up and graft. A 25 year old opener from Auckland battled 353 minutes in the park evading the webs of Narine, to play an uncharacteristic knock of 97 from 243 balls. Three short of his hundred, he lost focus and succumbed. But he had played his part. Martin James Guptill stood up when it mattered for a relatively inexperienced Kiwi side.
Eleven years back, a forklift went over his toes and he had to get three of his toes removed. In his words- “It was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life”. And to say that he is certainly one of the best fielders in the squad is incredible. He didn’t find the freak injury as an excuse to stop being a cricketer, rather he propelled further. That horrible day never pulled him back; rather it shoved him to new heights. Guptill played some aggressive knocks in first class circuit. He rose quickly through NZ ranks, enjoying some prolific scoring seasons with Auckland. The battered New Zealand team, weakened by star retirements, needed him. He got his break in 2009 and he made most of it.
His career took impressive strides from the debut match itself. Guptill smashed 122 from 135 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes against a Fidel Edwards-led bowling attack, breaking Fleming’s record of highest score on debut for the black caps. In the very same innings, he hit a monstrous 127 m six that landed on one of the roofs at Westpac, Wellington. The way he pulls on one leg and the way he drives through offside, seems effortless. In words of Cricinfo “Few players in world cricket play the short-arm pull on one leg with elegance like Martin Guptill”. When he can find some timing on a bright sunny day in test whites, it is a sheer delight to watch. His stooped stance allows him to play some real baseball hits, some of which were on display in his 91*off 54 balls in a T20 match versus Zimbabwe in February this year. His contrasting styles in Tests and T20 make him a complete cricketer suitable for all formats.
The star batsman had made a name already, and was waiting for the bigger stage. In the World Cup 2011, he was the second highest run-getter for New Zealand – 262 runs at an average of 43. He made a handsome 130 against Ireland in a warm-up match before the World Cup. At 24 then, he had a poise of a mature cricketer. Unlike many of his age, he has a cool head along with the aggressive game. Yet consistency has plagued his career throughout. The average, consequently, has taken a toll and dropped to a poor 31 in test matches. It is certainly not a reflection of the abilities of this young man who has years of cricket ahead of him.
The way he played the sheet-anchor in Antigua on Thursday, speaks of his potential. Like many players who show signs of greatness but fail, he might too. But the very fact that he made it this far despite that accident is a feat in itself. And if he proves to be a good batsmen for the Kiwis in the next decade, his two-toed story might inspire many budding cricketers who had to face a destiny’s cruelty.