Peter Taylor: Australia’s go-to off-spinner for a brief period in ODIs

Peter Taylor © Getty Images

Peter Taylor, born August 22, 1956, was an able off-break bowler who, after making a surprise entry into the Australian squad in 1987, went on to become a force in the limited-overs circuit. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career of this ‘mild-mannered’ cricketer from Down Under.

The Australians had let go of the opportunity to regain the urn, yet again, when they were comprehensively beaten by England in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne during the 1986 Ashes series. The media was relentless and, understandably, scathing. Nevertheless, pressure only continued to build on Australia as they were expected to bow out on a high. For the fifth and final Test, scheduled to be held at Sydney, changes to the line-up were inevitable. David Boon, Greg Matthews and Craig McDermott were left out. Since Boon was discarded, another specialist opener was expected to occupy his spot. The most touted was Mark Taylor, the First-Class cricketer who’d been plundering runs for New South Wales that season.

The replacements named were Greg Ritchie, Dirk Wellham and Peter Taylor. The last name stirred a furore, and certain sections of the media went on to assertively state that the selectors had mistakenly picked the wrong Taylor. “It has to be Mark,” they said. How else could Peter Taylor, aged 30, with only six First-Class games under his belt and only one in 1986-87 be chosen ahead of Mark, the prodigy? However, Greg Chappell, the former Australian stalwart who was a selector then, reaffirmed the fact that there was no mistake. Peter Taylor, the off-break bowler, he said, had been roped in for his temperament and type of bowling, which could be handy on the surface at Sydney.

A match-winning debut

Not for the first time, Chappell was justified. Taylor’s first victim was Allan Lamb who was dismissed off a short and wide delivery, a ball that perhaps didn’t deserve a wicket, but it opened the doors for five more scalps. In his first outing on the Test stage, Taylor accounted for wickets of batsmen the calibre of Lamb, David Gower and Ian Botham. With figures of six for 78, he walked off proud. Two more wickets in the second innings earned him best match-figures of eight for 154. “The unassuming Taylor gloriously vindicated the selectors’ judgement, not to say courage, with a performance of such merit that he was named player of the match,” noted Wisden.

Little did he expect it would be the only five-wicket haul of his career.

Decline in Tests and rise in One-Day Internationals

Despite a robust start to his international career, Taylor wasn’t an automatic choice in Tests, partly because the selectors had reverted back to their ‘youth first’ policy, and Allan Border and Taylor were the only two players above the age of 30 in the squad. Border was the captain and his presence hence mandatory. Taylor’s Test appearances soon became sporadic — he played just 12 more games, four for 78 against Pakistan at Lahore his best — but he would soon be an integral part of the One-Day International (ODI) setup. Between 1988 to 1992, he was known as his skipper’s ‘banker’ in the overs-limit format, since he’d regularly deliver what was expected of him — consistently take important wickets while remaining economical. Before Shane Warne, Abdul Qadir and Taylor were the two most renowned spinners in limited-overs cricket.

In 83 ODIs, Taylor finished with 97 wickets, registering a best of four for 38 against Sri Lanka at Melbourne.

A stubborn bat

In his 13 Tests, Taylor averaged over 26, this despite collecting just two fifties. The first instance was at Karachi in the September of 1988, where he scored an unbeaten 54 batting at No 7 in Australia’s first innings against Pakistan. His tenacity was duly noted by Border and he was asked to open the batting in the following innings. The next was a gritty 87 against New Zealand at Wellington. On this occasion, too, Australia’s batting had failed and Taylor top scored both times in that Test. Sadly, these knocks couldn’t secure a win for his side. Nonetheless, often times, he’d walk in to bat in the lower middle-order and stem the fall of wickets with his resilience. This earned him the respect of his mates.
Personality

Amidst a hyperactive bunch, featuring names like David Boon, Dean Jones, Mike Whitney and Ian Healy, Taylor was a semblance of calm. He was known by his initials, PT, and was also nicknamed ‘Boat’ (derived from a show titled McHale’s Navy, which showcases PT boats). Some also called him ‘granddad’. Unlike the other Australian cricketers, Taylor’s preferred topics of conversation included world affairs and local politics. “He loved to be intellectually challenged, but could mix it with the best in dressing-room banter and less mature conversation. PT didn’t let his guard down much and his quick wit didn’t have a genuine challenger, but deep down he loved the change-room environment because it kept him on his toes, alerting his mind for the battle ahead,” recollects Steve Waugh in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.

Apparently, Taylor lost his cool on the cricket field just once, when he was at the receiving end of a horrendous umpiring decision during the tour of Pakistan. He was given caught at short leg when the ball, a fair distance away from his willow, bounced off his thigh guard and lobbed into the hands of Ijaz Ahmed. The bowler, Aamer Malik, continued appealing even after the umpire shook his head, but persisted till the decision was reversed. While walking back to the hut, Taylor made his displeasure known to Malik.

Apart from this one-off instance, Taylor was known to be a mild-mannered bloke. He quit all forms of cricket in 1992 before going on to become a Test selector.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)