Few may have forgotten the scene when Mark Taylor, at 334* declared his innings only to ensure Sir Donald Bradman remained at top of the list. Such was Taylor’s dedication towards the team and the legends who donned baggy green. But many reasons added to this in a piece dedicated to a fine tactician on his 56th birth anniversary.
It was May 1994, when Australia’s longest-serving captain retired, a question was simmering in the air who will replace him, there were a number of names in contention. Stephen Waugh and Ian Healy were the strongest contenders and it looked almost certain that one of them would take over the reins of Australian cricket.
However, Australian selectors had other ideas, they selected Mark Taylor as the man. Only two months ago on the South African tour, Taylor was dropped from the team by the vote of tour selectors, Steven Waugh and Ian Healy.
Taylor started with a 0-1 loss in Pakistan and a loss in triangular series in Sri Lanka, he however bounced back and won a critical limited over tri-series in Pakistan. To win a major tournament on Pakistani soil, at a time when Pakistan cricket was in its golden era was a big milestone.
Later that year, the Leeton-born won the Ashes at home. But the 3-1 line didn’t show Australian dominance, however, Mark Taylor was quite impressive in the way he captained the side, he was astute in using Warne at the right time, the field placing was superb, the pressure he executed on Hick and Thorpe at Brisbane in final innings was exemplary.
In the Third Test at Sydney, when the team was in a precarious position, Taylor led like a true leader would- leading the way with the bat, scoring a fantastic hundred, and achieving a draw in what was almost a lost cause.
Few would’ve imagined such a turnaround. But then Mark Taylor was only beginning to show more was to follow.
Six months later, he gladdened everyone by achieving a historic series win in the Caribbean. Taylor, leading smartly as only he could at that time, broke the West Indies’ unbeaten run of 15 years.
He also took Australia to the finals of the 1996 World Cup. Is this the feat he’s given credit for? Perhaps not a bad idea to have an open debate on this.
With his calm demeanor and the typical Aussie trait of not wanting to get carried away by the laurels captaincy affords, Mark Taylor was a departure from the way the legend Allan Border led.
Was he a bit grumpy?
Taylor was also a brilliant slip fielder, anyone who has grown up in the 1990s and has followed Australia’s matches closely remembers the stunning catch of Carl Hooper, which he took off Shane Warne at Sydney in 1996.
Taylor proved to be a tough nut to crack between November 1995-June 1997; there being a phase when despite the team’s success, he was under immense pressure owing to constant disappointments with the bat.
In 21 innings, he failed to cross 50 and it had started to reflect in his captaincy at times. In 1996-97, the team did not qualify for the Tri-Series final for the first time in 19 years.
By the time when he went out to bat in the First Ashes Test of (English summer of) 1997, everyone was asking for his head.
With the team trailing by massive 360 runs (before the Tests the Australians had lost the ODI series by 3-0), he played a captain’s knock- scoring a fighting hundred. Even as Australia lost the Test, they’d win the next three to retain the Ashes.
A year later, Taylor led his team to Pakistan, determined to win, and mindful of the fallouts experienced before.
He started with a bang winning the first Test. In the next Test, he made a massive Triple century.
And precisely here rests- arguably speaking- the greatest moment of Mark Taylor- the batsman, the captain, the embodiment of the Australian spirit he happened to be.
Surprisingly, when everyone expected him to go for Brian Lara’s record of 375, he declared the innings, batting unbeaten on 334.
Only so the great Sir Donald Bradman’s record could stay intact and unbroken.
In a game where cricketers spend often a lot of time ‘sledging’, even advocating ‘mind games’ et cetera- how about highlighting utter selflessness?
15 months later, in January 1999, after winning the home Ashes, Mark Taylor decided it was time to retire.
By then, he’d played 104 Tests, from which he’d scored 7525 at a healthy 43.49. This included 19 centuries. Apart from that, the easy-going gum-chewing leftie played 113 ODIs, from which he scored 3514 runs at 32.2.
Taylor’s legacy is perhaps his smart captaincy; he took over from the venerable Allan Border and started an era of Australian domination. And in doing so, he allowed the team to play freely.
Michael Slater, one of the most underrated openers flourished under Mark Taylor. To this day, we realize the inimitable Brendon McCullum flourishing under the admirable Fleming.
But have we given enough regard to Mark Taylor for leading one of Australia’s most flamboyant paratrooper-like opener the way he did- jovial and cheery as he was with most others around him?
Greater attention, you’d think should also rest with Taylor under whose watch the great Shane Warne reached glorious peaks and Glenn McGrath found his mojo, one could put it that way.
And for all he did and didn’t- Taylor could be termed as the most unAustralian captain that the team had in the past 4 decades.
He didn’t sledge.
He didn’t have to and importantly didn’t advocate it either unlike some of the more successful and respected Australian leaders such as Steve Waugh. And importantly- he didn’t ‘have to win’ at any cost like Ricky Ponting, one of the finest batsmen of his generation.
Yet, Mark Taylor emerged- despite not having the talent of a Ponting, Lara, Sachin, Inzamam, Anwar, or the likes- as a man, leader who furthered the cause of Australian cricket, showing that winning was possible without being difficult.
And more importantly, he always played Cricket like a game of chess, thinking one step ahead of the opposition.