The consecutive centuries against West Indies show why Ross Taylor is New Zealand’s Mr Dependable in the middle-order. Bharath Ramaraj elaborates on the explosive batsman.
In the last decade, with a slew of New Zealand’s players retiring from the game, the national cricket team was in a dire need of a twinkling star who could hold the middle-order batting together. The Wellington-born, Ross Taylor was the one who emerged as a strong candidate who could take the mantle of being the cornerstone of New Zealand’s batting line-up, in the years to come. Months have turned into years and Taylor from a player with burgeoning potential has now become the bedrock of New Zealand’s batting line-up. In fact, while essaying his 10th hundred in the ongoing Test match against the West Indies at his home-town Wellington, Taylor also became the seventh batsman from New Zealand to reach the landmark of 4,000 Test runs.
If we turn the clock back, even during his junior days, Taylor was earmarked to tower heavenly heights. So, despite not performing up to expectations in the domestic circuit, New Zealand’s selectors plumped for him to play One-Day Internationals (ODIs) against the West Indies in 2006.
As compared to some of the bigger nations in the wonderful world of cricket, New Zealand rarely play Test matches, Taylor had to bide his time to don his first Test cap. The reality-altering experience finally arrived in 2007 against South Africa. In his debut Test against the pillaging South Africans and that too in their own den, Taylor found Test cricket is a tough baptism by fire. South Africa’s surfeit battery of pacers hunted down Taylor like a pack of wolves and he flopped miserably.
However in the very next Test match he played on a relatively easy paced track at Hamilton in familiar surroundings against the touring England team, he essayed his first Test hundred. What more, New Zealand went onto win the Test match by a handsome margin. Yes, England’s pacers especially Mathew Hoggard and Steve Harmison seemed to be struck in a wallow of mediocrity. But the way Taylor with what seemed like a magic wand instead of a willow took deliveries from outside the off-stump to flick it towards the mid-wicket region showcased his burgeoning potential.
He followed up that hundred at Hamilton with another crackerjack century against England in their own backyard at Old Trafford. In an absorbing contest with England’s James Anderson, he pulled and hooked his way to pinnacle of success. He also used his now famous slog sweep over the mid-wicket region mainly against Monty Panesar’s bowling.
It was in the year 2009 though, when he reached stratospheric regions as batsman. In the series against India, he made two sublime hundreds. In the Test match at Napier, his breathtaking partnership with Jesse Ryder wowed the sparse crowd. In fact, the Indian seamers had no clue while bowling to either of the batsman and the coup de maitre from both batsmen just left Indian team in a state of trance. In particular, Munaf Patel’s brand of medium-pace came in for some special treatment.
As the years ticked by, there were question marks raised by his detractors about Taylor’s form, while New Zealand travelled on the road. Last year in India, the then newly appointed captain of New Zealand Taylor made his critics eat humble-pie by slog sweeping his way to a swashbuckling knock of 113. Every time, the volcanically talented batsman slog-swept Indian spinners Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin respectively, purists cringed. But that is one shot which has always proved to be loyal for Taylor.
Unfortunately, just when he seemed to be flying on the wings of a fantasy world, he became a victim of bizarre miscommunication. New Zealand’s present coach Mike Hesson seemed to always back Brendon McCullum more than Taylor. As per Taylor’s accounts as mentioned by Mike Selvy in his column for The Guardian, during Sri Lanka’s tour of New Zealand, Hesson told him, “We believe you to be a follower rather than a leader. When the tour finishes you will no longer be captain of the team in any format.”
“To hear that I wasn’t good enough for this team was disappointing.” After that fiasco it was found out New Zealand’s think-tank led by Hesson wanted him to be removed as a captain from only the ODI side. Whatever maybe the reason, the timing of it was poor.
Ironically, in the second Test in Sri Lanka, Taylor’s magnificence helped New Zealand to win a rare Test match in Emerald Isles. The last time they had won in the Emerald Isles was way back in 1998. It didn’t surprise anyone one bit though, Taylor withdrew from the New Zealand set-up citing that he wasn’t feeling mentally up to playing international cricket. Some former New Zealand cricketers didn’t exactly shower him with garlands for taking that decision. But the writer feels it was the right decision taken by him, as it would take sometime for any sportsman to come out of setbacks.
Just like a true champion, instead of drowning in depression, he has erased those fine lines of pain and distress with consummate ease. It can be seen by the fact that he has been in remarkable form in the ongoing Test series against the West Indies by slamming consecutive tons in two Tests.
Taylor with all those mind-blowing strokes he plays across the line will never be a purists delight. But he has carved a niche for himself in the international arena with his own brand of attacking batsmanship.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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