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Tributes flow at emotional funeral for N. Zealand cricketer Crowe

AFP logoAFP 11-03-2016
Pallbearers including actor Russell Crowe (centre R) carry the casket of former New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe during his funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland on March 11, 2016 © Provided by AFP Pallbearers including actor Russell Crowe (centre R) carry the casket of former New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe during his funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland on March 11, 2016

Cricketing greats honoured Martin Crowe at an emotional funeral for New Zealand's greatest batsman Friday, with his cousin, Hollywood star Russell Crowe, acting as a pallbearer.

About 1,000 mourners packed Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral to remember Crowe, who died on March 4 aged 53 after a long battle with cancer.

The batsman's brother Jeff, himself a former Black Caps captain, said the family had been touched by the outpouring of grief from across the cricketing world.

He was in Bangladesh on umpiring duties when Martin died and said there were heartfelt tributes from many involved in the game, including "a new Indian cricket generation".

Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe died this month after a long battle with cancer © Provided by AFP Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe died this month after a long battle with cancer

"It had never really dawned on me... what a huge splash he made, what a true inspiration he was," Crowe senior told the service.

"Wasim Akram reminded me just the other day that Martin was the greatest batsman he ever bowled to -- no higher praise than that," he added.

Former team-mates shared memories of a player who averaged 45.36 despite being plagued by injury in his 77-Test career, hitting 17 centuries -- still a New Zealand record.

Ex-Black Caps wicketkeeper Ian Smith read out a message from Australian great Allan Border, Crowe's fierce rival who became a close friend.

"Cricket has lost one of its iconic players. He will be fondly remembered, greatly missed but never forgotten, a true champion," Border said.

'My champion, my hero'

Lorraine Downes, the wife of Martin Crowe, bids farewell to the former New Zealand cricketer during his funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland on March 11, 2016 © Provided by AFP Lorraine Downes, the wife of Martin Crowe, bids farewell to the former New Zealand cricketer during his funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland on March 11, 2016

Smith said Crowe's cricketing brain was unsurpassed, describing him as years ahead of his time in devising a shortened form of the game that paved the way for Twenty20.

He also shared lighter memories, such as Crowe imitating opponents' techniques during rain delays in the dressing room and forcing team-mates to repeatedly watch films featuring his Oscar-winning cousin.

"(Martin) was in 'Gladiator' as an extra, he was a senator -- well he was never going to be a footsoldier was he?" Smith quipped, referring to the Russell Crowe blockbuster.

The actor's presence at the service had been in doubt due to prior commitments, but he made the trip to New Zealand with his children.

He did not address the service but after Crowe's death tweeted: "My champion, my hero, my friend. I will love you forever."

Auckland Grammar students perform a haka at former New Zealand cricket great Martin Crowe's funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland on March 11, 2016 © Provided by AFP Auckland Grammar students perform a haka at former New Zealand cricket great Martin Crowe's funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland on March 11, 2016

He helped carry a casket bearing a giant inlaid silver fern to a hearse outside the cathedral as students from Crowe's former school Auckland Grammar performed a haka.

Jeff said cousins Martin and Russell had shared a friendly rivalry as they both embarked upon stellar careers in their chosen fields.

"I do remember a wager they had on who would be the most famous," he said. "Russ, today only, I think Martin might be in front."

Smith said he saw Crowe in recent months "as things were shutting down" due to the cancer that was first diagnosed in October 2012 and then returned in September 2014.

"I won't remember him that way," he said.

"I'll always see a great man at the crease. White helmet, silver fern on... playing the most perfect straight drive back past the bowler for four."

Watch: Russell Crowe attends funeral for former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe

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