Bruce Taylor: The quintessential tall all-rounder whose debut deeds still stands the test of time

Bruce Taylor was an aggressive batsman. His second Test ton against West Indies came in just 86 minutes © Getty Images

On July 12, 1943, Bruce Taylor was born. He did play in 30 Test matches but his first Test match against India in Kolkata is what he is still remembered for. After scoring a ton and picking up a fifer on debut he became the toast of New Zealand. Sporadic brilliances were seen but the consistency was missing from his game. Sarang Bhalerao revisits the career of one of New Zealand’s finest cricketers.

The first thing one notices about Bruce Taylor is his height. He leveraged his tallness to generate bounce of the wickets. He was handy on most unresponsive wickets. Yet he had the propensity to move the ball both ways thus compounding the problems for the established batsmen of the game.

Taylor announced his arrival at the international circuit with stellar all-round performance in his maiden tour of India in 1965.

The Indian tour of 1965

Debutant Taylor made it into the playing XI of the second Test match at the Eden Gardens because Barry Sinclair had fallen ill and was unable to take part in the game. About 30,000-40,000 people were routing for an Indian win.

New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat. The highlight of the New Zealand innings was John Reid’s four sixes before lunch that had given momentum to the Kiwis. After Reid was dismissed for 82, Brian Yuile and Vic Pollard departed soon. Bert Sutcliffe was batting with ease. When Taylor’s turn came into bat, he was nervous. His nerves were calmed just a tad when Indian team manager Polly Umrigar wished the debutant Taylor good luck.

Taylor survived a few anxious moments on Day one and was unbeaten on 13 when the day ended. On Day two, Sutcliffe and Taylor began to counterattack. At that moment Taylor got precious words of confidence from Sutcliffe. Taylor in an interview to ESPNCricinfo said his partner Sutcliffe advised “Listen, son — you could score 100 here if you keep your head down.”

Taylor known for his aggressive batting went after the bowling much to the disappointment of Sutcliffe who wanted the young partner to grind out runs. Taylor carried out in his merry ways and reached a century just before lunch interval on day two.  After lunch interval Taylor’s enterprising innings of 105 came to an end when Bapu Nadkarni dismissed him. His debut ton was punctuated by 14 boundaries and three sixes. New Zealand were dismissed for 462.

Before the end of day’s play Taylor picked up two important wickets of Farokh Engineer and Bapu Nadkarni. Taylor had come round the wicket to Nadkarni and had him clean bowled for a duck.

On day three, Taylor got Chandu Borde (62) and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi for 153. Pataudi in fact had offered a few chances early on in his innings which were not pouched by New Zealand fielders. When Pataudi got a huge top-edge off Taylor’s bowling he was hell-bent on catching the high ball himself. The ball was coming down near point area. He had a mini-collision with wicket-keeper John Ward, who held the catch safely.

Taylor got a fifer on debut by dismissing Srinivas Venkataraghvan for seven. New Zealand dismissed India for 380 thus securing a lead of 82 runs. Taylor had figures of five for 86.

It was a dream debut for Taylor who is till date the only cricketer to score a hundred and pick up five wickets in an innings in his first Test.

In the next Test match Taylor recorded his second fifer in Test cricket picking up five for 26 at the Brabourne Stadium. India were dismissed at 88 in reply to New Zealand’s 297. But Dilip Sardesai’s double hundred saved India from an embarrassing defeat. Taylor picked up three for 76 in the second essay when India were asked to follow-on. India setup a target of 255 for the Kiwis who were 80 for eight before the match ended. Taylor top-scored in the second innings with 21.

1965 Pakistan tour

After India tour New Zealand went to Pakistan. Taylor scored 76 in the first Test at Rawalpindi coming in to bat at 39 for five. New Zealand were bowled out for 175.Pakistan scored 318 in the first innings with Taylor picking up three wickets. In the second innings New Zealand were dismissed for 79. They lost the game by an innings and 64 runs.

Test ton against West Indies in 1969

Playing against the West Indies, New Zealand were reeling at 152 for six after Garry Sobers chose to field after winning the toss at the Eden Park, Auckland. Taylor then took the matter in his own hands. He counter-attacked. Powerful drives and vintage pulls took over. He raced to his half-century in only thirty minutes. Eighty-six minutes is what it took for Taylor to reach his second Test ton, which incidentally was also his second First-Class century. This was the then the fifth fastest century in terms of number of minutes.

Taylor’s innings of 124 was dazzled by 14 boundaries and five sixes. His 111-minute stay put New Zealand in a strong position.

But Seymour Nurse guided West Indies home scoring 168 to secure a five-wicket win for the tourists who managed to chase 345 in the fourth innings.

1972 tour of the Caribbean

Taylor got a quarter of his Test wickets — 27 out of total 111 — in the 1972 tour of the Caribbean. The New Zealand selectors got Taylor in the second Test at the Port of Spain in place of fast bowler Murray Webb who had not looked ready for Test cricket.

In the second Test Taylor stitched an important alliance with Bevan Congdon. The duo added 69 in 90 minutes. Taylor scored 46.  Taylor picked up seven wickets in the Test match which ended in a draw.

In the third Test at Bridgetown Taylor used a damp wicket to good effect picking up his career best seven for 74. West Indies were dismissed for 133 before tea on the opening day. New Zealand scored 422 and secured a big lead. In the second innings West Indies were 171 for five, still 118 runs behind New Zealand’s total. Sobers looked assured and he was joined by Charlie Davis. By the end of the penultimate day’s play West Indies were just eight runs ahead with five wickets in hand.

On the final day morning Sobers cut Taylor straight to Jarvis in the slips. But that chance was spilled. Davis (183) and Sobers (142) saved the match for West Indies. Taylor took nine wickets in the Test which in the end were not quite enough.

Struggle in England

In his 30 Test matches, Taylor took 111 wickets at an average of 26.60 and strike rate of 57. Against England in the seven games he played, Taylor averaged 35.17 and his strike rate was a disappointing 71.6.  There was no five-wicket haul in those seven Tests.

He averaged 10.20 in the eight Tests he played against England which included 51 at Lord’s in 1965.  His career average was 20.41 (898 runs).

He retired after his final tour to England in 1973.

Life after cricket

Taylor helped Wellington to win against touring West Indies in a First -Class game in 1978.  After that he served as an Otago selector. Taylor was a part of selection committee which chose the 1992 World Cup team.

In early 1993 he resigned his job as bursar from John McGlashan College in Dunedin following accusations of financial irregularities. He had a gambling addiction because of which he had stolen $360,000.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)