Talented Ross Taylor makes his presence at the 2011 World Cup with a splendid century against Pakistan © Getty Images

 

By Jamie Alter

 

Long before his team-mates embraced Ross Taylor after his ballistic late-innings assault took the total to 302 against Pakistan on Tuesday, there was a far less cheery scene unfolding out in the middle. There was Taylor, as he told it later, “struggling and looking for a bit of luck”.

 

He had just been dropped twice behind the stumps, on 0 and 4, and once again it seemed another day at the office where an outrageously-talented batsman was going to clock in and play slacker.

 

Taylor, averaging 28.80 over the last two years, had reached the point of utter frustration. Earlier this week, he had revealed in an interview that he was thoroughly disappointed with his habit of struggling to rotate strike and get out on slower wickets. Even after facing 60 deliveries, Taylor was tentative and unsure of how to cope with a sluggish surface, and the inconsistency he had been battling all season was threatening to swallow him again.

 

Somehow, Taylor toughed it out and unleashed the beast inside, and the fans got to see the Taylor which gets the adrenalin running. The Taylor New Zealand need more often.  At the 40-over mark New Zealand had managed only ten fours; by the end they had more than doubled the boundary count.

 

Taylor cut loose with a slog-swept six off Shahid Afridi’s final ball, leaving the Pakistan captain with his worst bowling analysis of the tournament, while the Pallekele crowd was given a stunning fireworks display when Taylor suddenly lifted his tempo.

 

Taylor’s next 56 runs came in just 15 deliveries as he powerfully launched Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq into the crowd to leave Kamran Akmal ruing the lives he’d given him. Shoaib was caned for 28 in one over, Razzaq for 30. Full toss after full toss was deposited over deep midwicket as New Zealand ransacked 95 off the last five overs.

 

When he plays like he did on Tuesday, you can see why in Twenty20 cricket Taylor has earned himself a huge reputation and most recently a cool $1.3 million to play for the Rajasthan Royals. But when he’s struggling, Taylor can make hitting a cricket ball look like searching for the remote control on a messy couch. And that is why, aged 27, Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor remains something of an enigma.

 

Taylor was always destined for success because his class as a technically proficient right-hand batsman was evident from primary school days in Wellington. There was no great cricketing tradition in his family but he was encouraged by his family. Today, he has evolved into something of a role model for fellow Pacific Islanders.

 

Apart from Adam Parore, few of the non-white cricketers whom New Zealand selectors have given opportunities to have enjoyed such an extended run. Taylor is the real deal: a proper batsman with all the shots in the book and a solid technique to boot. With his success, New Zealand can spread cricket quickly among the third of their population which is not of European ancestry.

 

Since he entered the international arena five years ago, Taylor has been through a gamut of emotions and phases. From outrageous talent and potential captain – he was groomed for leadership as a 16-year-old representing New Zealand Under-19s – to being elevated to ‘stand-by captain’ to having the chief of New Zealand Cricket say Taylor wasn’t guaranteed the job.

 

From becoming the first Pacific Islander to play a Test at Lord’s to New Zealand’s biggest ticket at the lucrative Indian Premier League. While on the one hand his six-hitting had earned him big bucks in the dazzling word of Twenty20, his credentials at Test level still hadn’t backed the talk of his being the next Martin Crowe.

 

Batting at No 3 in his third ODI, in December 2006, Taylor scored an unbeaten 138, but ended up on the losing end. His second limited-overs century, a classy 117 against Australia a couple months later, helped his team chase down 337 in an epic at Eden Park. A lean spell followed, and it was not until October 2008 that Taylor reached three figures in an ODI again. His next three-figure knock is his latest in the World Cup that people are talking about and will talk for a long time to come.

 

In Tests, Taylor also scored a century in third match. He has been a capable batsman in the middle order, yet the same indifference so often sets in: a poor shot after being well set, a waft when the situation demands grafting, a sweep when playing straight would be advisable.

 

Against Sri Lanka during the second Test at the SSC in August 2009, Taylor battled his way to 81 before popping a regulation edge to the wicketkeeper amid a typical New Zealand collapse. In his very next Test, against Pakistan in Dunedin, he chased an off-break on 94 and nicked to slip; and in the second innings he ran himself out for 59. In the second innings of the second Test, Taylor threw his bat at a wide ball when 97 and edged to first slip.

 

And that seems to be his biggest problem: when to not play the big shots. With that amount of talent, it’s a shame Taylor still hasn’t achieved more at international level. He will always be a big draw in Twenty20, but scoring runs in the IPL won’t help his country. He admits he has much to work on, and must shun the big shots early in his innings. He’s young and has time to learn. At 27, his best years are ahead of Taylor.

 

Just over a year ago, former New Zealand Test opener Mark Richardson – now something of a media pundit – boldly predicted that New Zealand had the goods to win the 2011 World Cup. What most impressed Richardson was the depth he felt New Zealand were creating, particularly in the batting which was led by Taylor, whom he termed as “approaching world class”.

 

On days such as against Pakistan on Tuesday, Taylor does indeed look world class. The challenge is to sustain such brilliance. Though they’re all too familiar with his inconsistency, New Zealand fans will now hope that the human pendulum known as Ross Taylor is on the upswing.

 

(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now)