Pioneering cricketer Martin Crowe, widely acknowledged as New Zealand’s greatest batsman who laid the foundations for Twenty20 cricket, was hailed a “hero” Thursday after he died of cancer aged 53.

martin crowe

Diagnosed in September 2014 with terminal double-hit lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer, he passed away in Auckland surrounded by family.

“It is with heavy hearts that the family of Martin Crowe, MBE, advise his death,” his family said.

The batsman’s cousin, Hollywood star Russell Crowe, who was in frequent contact during his cancer fight, said he had lost a true friend.

“My champion, my hero, my friend. I will love you forever. RIP M.D.Crowe,” the New Zealand-born actor tweeted.

Crowe’s family said he died surrounded by his loved ones and asked for privacy after the star’s lengthy and very public battle with the disease, adding: “God speed. Rest in peace.”

Crowe enjoyed a 13-year international career from 1982-95, including four years as captain.

He had a Test average of 45.36 in 77 matches and held a slew of New Zealand batting records when he retired, including most Test runs (5,444), highest Test score (299), most 50s (35) and most hundreds (17) — the last of which still stands.

In his retirement, Crowe devised a new ultra-short form of the game called Cricket Max for his new employer Sky Television, which helped lay the foundation for the modern Twenty20 revolution.

An ICC Hall of Fame inductee, he remained involved with New Zealand’s top players until the end, mentoring batsmen such as Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill.

He particularly enjoyed the Black Caps’ fairytale run to the Cricket World Cup final last year, admitting at the time that he had been uncertain he would live to see the tournament.

“Martin was a truly great sportsman — one of our finest-ever batsmen and sharpest cricketing minds,” Prime Minister John Key said.