12 years back when Ross Taylor started his international career, not everyone thought he’d become the most successful cricketer of his country. A decade and half later, his name stands against many batting records in New Zealand’s history. We track the journey of a Samoan boy who’s gone about serving cricket sans shenanigans and starry tantrums.
For someone who’s struck 34 international hundreds and fashioned useful contributions buoyed by an ability to bat for long, playing grounded strokes with not necessarily the most attractive technique, fame doesn’t always come as a by-product with a man of the match award.
But that’s Ross Taylor for you.
Uncomplicated and purely passionate. Determined and dogged.
Leaning in and caressing the ball through the covers,standing and squatting like a tennis forehand and then a celebration by glimpse of the tongue, that’s Ross Taylor for you.
12 years at International Level, the most senior statesman of his country. He currently sits at the third spot among the highest run getters from New Zealand with 6,246 runs only behind Brendon McCullum and Stephan Fleming. While he has 17 century a joint record which he holds along with Kane Williamson and late Martin Crowe. In One day internationals he is only behind two big guns Stephan Fleming and Nathan Astle with 6,963 runs and has most number of centuries in 50 over’s game. Even if he retires now and doesn’t add anything to his tally he will end up as one of the finest to have represented New Zealand.
As a young Samoan kid, Taylor was quite interested in cricket unlike his counter parts who preferred Rugby. His talent was identified by Dermot Payton, Wairarapa farming scion who in his free time work on searching for new talents. Payton was impressed by the power hitting ability of Taylor, when he saw him first as a 12-year-old in mid winters of 1996. He says “I would put my life in his hands. He was only a kid, but man, did he hit the ball hard. I stopped suggesting straight drives after a while.”
Payton was asked by Central District Association to mentor this child prodigy from Masterton. He was impressed by what he saw of him. “His shot selection was impeccable. Full and wide, cover drive. Full and on middle and leg, on-drive. Short and wide, cut. You could tell he was a talent. He was just so natural. It wasn’t a case of rebuilding him or pulling apart his technique. It was near perfect.”
In 2006, when he played his first ODl he was deemed to be a dasher; someone who could pump up the scoring rate with his swivel over the mid wicket which was his trademark shot. In 2007, when he played his first test, New Zealand were about to enter a serious transformation, their first since Richard Hadlee, Evan Chatfield, Ian Smith, John Bracewell had retired in space of two years from 1989-1992. Also gone were batting pillars- Nathan Astle (January 2007) and Craig McMillan (September 2007). Furthermore, Stephan Fleming would retire 5 months after Taylor’s debut and Mark Richardson had exited earlier.
Talk of vacuums. You’d immediately identify New Zealand’s then crisis. Someone was needed to do the bulwark of scoring; a force around whom the side would bat together. For next few years Daniel Vettori had to bear all the burden and during 2008-2011, Taylor grew in stature. His talent was obvious right in the beginning as he’d stuck a fantastic century in only his third ODI. Sri Lanka were witness to a barrage of mighty strokes. Soon, leadership positions came calling. He would be appointed captain after 2011 World Cup, as Vettori was completely exhausted in this period shouldering multiple responsibilities as captain, bowler, batsmen, coach and selector.
It could be said, Taylor didn’t exactly flourish in the captaincy role. The 18 months tenure as captain proved to be a rough ride as New Zealand performance plunged, amplified by 12 losses and only 6 wins under Ross’ Test leadership. Though New Zealand registered two massive victories one each in Australia after 26 years and in Sri Lanka after 14 years, coach Mike Hesson was not satisfied with Taylor’s approach and wanted a split captaincy role to route out strain.
Taylor dealt with the pain of not being informed of the same. But ever the quiet man, he hung on and carried through. Often, it doesn’t occur to us that his seamless quality stems for a brilliant average of 44 in ODIs and 48 in Tests. Has it occurred to us that of his nearly 7000 ODI runs, Taylor’s struck nearly a 1000 against Australia, India and Pakistan whilst he’s close to notching in excess of 1100 versus England. Do we give him credit for his meaty offerings or do we eschew our attention considering there are flashier exponents of batting in Guptill, Munro and, Williamson?
Ross Taylor recalls his childhood time especially with Jesse Ryder. Both kids from Wairarapa use to play cricket together with same team. While Ryder use to open, Taylor was middle order player. Taylor, it could be said, was lucky being mentored by the great Martin Crowe which helped him transform as a player. His massive century against Pakistan in UAE and a 290 against Australia at Perth were some of the innings that got him worldwide recognition as one of the best batsman at international level in modern era. His stocks at IPL has also continued to grow over the years.
He will turn 34 next month and considering his age, he’s still got 2-3 years in him, if not more. But a fitting tribute to his onerous journey would be truly served if he ends up playing 100 Tests with 8000 runs in both Tests and ODIs, a feat no Kiwi has achieved in their history.