Ross Taylor: a wizard across formats, hero of none

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Ross Taylor: a wizard across formats, hero of none

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Sritama Panda

09/03/2019

At the age of 35, Ross Taylor, the highest run-getter for New Zealand in International Cricket across all formats, has outclassed himself to reach the zenith of his career- in the era of the ‘Fab Four’- and is not ready to give up anytime soon. Perhaps, he’s a wizard. Just a wizard.

“Now, I've heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don't really care for music, do you?”

He is not your regular poster boy, not many kids want to grow up to become a Ross Taylor, he sticks out his tongue- as an endearing gesture for his kids - on scoring a big knock. But there's a rejoice in his celebration that is unadulterated and unparalleled. He doesn’t holler in excitement, he embodies a Skylark trilling “Hallelujah”. Does he really care for music? You tell me. 

Laidback and judicious yet dynamic and confident, he is a man who believes in moving mountains, but one at a time. But who really is Ross Taylor? The kid from Masterton with limited resources but a striking ability to hit the ball as hard as strong as a grown-up man and was summoned by the Central Districts Cricket Association, who first recognized his talent? But that’s Luteru Taylor, son of a Samoan mother and Kiwi father. Back in school, the local kids found it difficult to pronounce his Polynesian name and that’s when Luteru decided that he’d be known as Ross. That’s when Ross Taylor came into being, a fabrication. 

Before him, only one person from the Samoan tribe had represented New Zealand in cricket, left-arm seamer Murphy Su'a, who played 13 Tests in the mid '90s. Taylor, who went on to captain the team in all formats, led New Zealand for the first time in an ODI against Australia in Napier on 3 March 2010, as a replacement for Daniel Vettori, who dropped out of the side less than 30 minutes before the start with neck pain. Taylor top-scored in that game with 70 taking New Zealand to victory with two wickets and four balls remaining. Taylor was also awarded the Man of the Match for his performance in his very first game as captain and donated the $NZ 500 prize to the Lansdowne Cricket Club in Masterton, his hometown. Life came a full circle for the little kid with a vision to change things. 

That was the day when the ‘fabrication’ turned into a legacy.

If thine is the glory, then thine must be the shame

“I went two weeks without sleep. I was having probably two hours of sleep each night. But I was still able to score a 140-odd and back it up with a 70 (in the second Test in) Colombo. It's amazing how resilient I felt I was back then. Things happen in life that are out of your control. It is what it is,” Taylor’s revelation of how he felt after he found out that he was losing the captaincy, at Galle, after the first Test in 2012. Mike Hesson had made his decision. The coach offered Taylor to split his captaincy with wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum after reviewing his two tours to India and Sri Lanka and the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.

However, a clearly disappointed Taylor declined the offer and decided to take a break from international cricket and refused to tour South Africa. New Zealand had no idea what wonders Baz, their new captain across formats, would do to the team in the next three years.

Coming back to our main man, Ross Taylor did come back to play the home series against England but eventually showed a dip in form. However, he gained back the trust of his teammates. A couple of years passed by, but Taylor’s lack of form was still a concern. Sure he scored an unforgettable 290 at Perth in late 2015, but only days before that, in Brisbane, he said he "couldn't really see the ball", and had only managed scores of 0 and 26.

The problem was diagnosed soon, a pterygium, a small benign growth often called "surfer's eye" that had affected Taylor’s sight and flared up after the first home Test of the 2016 summer, against Pakistan in November, which turned out to be another unproductive outing for Taylor after a horror tour to India. But in the 2nd test match against Pakistan, in Hamilton, Taylor produced an asserting hundred hence declaring he’s good to be back.

After coping with the pterygium for a year, Taylor finally had it surgically removed at the end of 2016, and it’s unsuprising that his ODI form has been exceptional ever since, as Taylor being second to only Virat Kohli since that time was made familiar to the fans ahead of this year’s World Cup. He has averaged 60.50, 91.28 and 55.97 across the past three calendar years. In Test Cricket, he also averaged 81.6 in 2016 and is now averaging 63.20 across four Tests in 2019.

Never. Say. Die

Ross Taylor changed his identity, broke stereotypes, captained the New Zealand Cricket team, played two World Cup finals. Everyone loves a story that enunciates the shaping of a person, a story that revolves around change. 

Back in 2003, Swiss International Tennis player Roger Federer admitted that he was horrible as a 12-year-old. He spoke back at his parents, broke Tennis racquets and often wanted to quit. From that, to the unmatched calm that he emanates on court, the ultimate form of grace that he exudes, and an impeccable talent that he is through and through - all of that took years of shaping and the patience to master his emotions. 

At age 35, after a six-month injury break, Roger Federer rubbished all speculations about his retirement when he emerged victorious in a relentless five-setter against Rafael Nadal to win his 18th Grand Slam, in the Australian Open 2017. Federer didn’t have to voice it out to the world this time, as it was certain that he’s going to stick around.

 Highest aggregate runs for NZ Cricket(all formats combined) © ESPNCricinfo

At the age of 35, Ross Taylor, the highest run-getter for New Zealand in International Cricket (all formats combined), has outclassed himself to reach the zenith of his career- in the era of the ‘Fab Four’- and is not ready to give up anytime soon. 

The funny thing is, the current Kiwi captain Kane Williamson also has eerie similarities with the legendary Roger Federer. Born nine years apart, the two share the same birthday- 8th August- and are known across the world for their unmatched grace. 

Federer just might have a thing with the Kiwis, as on July 14th this year- on what would be remembered as one of the biggest days in the history of sports- the Black Caps and the Maestro of Tennis became hapless victims of their fate. Playing their best possible game, bestowing all they had, at Wimbledon and Lord’s- just 10 miles apart in London- Federer and the Black Caps came excruciatingly close to sealing iconic victories but failed. While the former lost his fourth Wimbledon final, the Kiwis had to bear the burden of losing two World Cup finals in a row. 

“I’ve got a few years left” 

As opposed to 2015, New Zealand didn’t start as favourites in this year’s World Cup campaign. But they went on to win five out of the first five completed games anyway. However, the Black Caps fell steep down the slope losing three games in a row right ahead of the semifinal, what was considered to be their biggest competition so far since it was a team they hadn’t met in the competition before - Team India. 

With the dip in form of the entire batting unit and going into the knockouts as underdogs, New Zealand batted first against India, on July 9. And that day became witness to the most underrated match-winning knock of the entire tournament. Ross Taylor’s 90-ball 74 was instrumental in the ‘upset’ that was caused. Everyone spoke about Matt Henry’s 3/37, which got him the Man of the match title or Guptill’s run-out that dismissed MS Dhoni and killed India’s hopes at once. Ross Taylor once again became a figment. 

After having their dreams shattered by the ODI format, the boys toured Sri Lanka for Tests and T20Is- eyeing to redeem themselves. The series turned out to be a flashback of the 2012 series, Taylor’s final outing as captain. New Zealand lost the first game convincingly and bounced back in the 2nd Test, hence leveling the series. Taylor top-scored in the 1st innings at Galle, scoring 86 against a deadly spin attack, but failed to deliver in the next couple of innings. Taylor wouldn’t be worried about the little dip in his number, after all, he’s Ross, for all we know he’ll be reaching for the batting average of 50 next. 

After revisiting a slightly dark phase from his past, he next had Pallekele in sight. This time it was a love affair for Taylor, who in five T20I innings in 2019 averaged 40 at a strike rate of 130, recreated his 2011 World Cup knock against Pakistan. Taylor had lit up Pallekele by hammering seven sixes in his unbeaten 131 off 124 balls in 2011 and 8 years later, Taylor wound back the clock in a more compact but similarly effective batting onslaught, clouting 48 off 29 balls to become the Player of the match in New Zealand’s five-wicket victory.

"They'd all correct you when you said, 'Sorry we lost the game.' They'd stop you right there and go: 'No, you didn't lose the game, you tied the game'” - Taylor’s recent revelation on how the team was received after the Lord’s final debacle. 

To the rest of the world it was Taylor’s last World Cup, but Ross wasn’t sure. He’ll be 39 in 2023 and he still doesn’t know. Losing the World Cup final was a heartbreak, yes, but Taylor has more reasons to come back once again for he was wrongly dismissed at Lord’s, a chapter he never really got to finish. A classic case of unrequited love.

After winning the first T20I in Kandy, Ross Taylor revealed that he's still “got a few years left”. That’s such a Roger Federer thing to say. A win inflicts more positivity and momentum to keep excelling, a setback helps them fight back with more zeal. Is there any mantra in the world that can stop that energy? 

Self-doubt, rejection, an urge to quit, Taylor has faced all the modern-day issues that affect one’s mental health. It’s always been tough and it’s going to get tougher with age, but, like as usual, Ross Taylor seems like he can handle it. No matter how many times life has made him fall, Rosco bounces right back up, just as if he perennially has a ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ up his sleeve. Perhaps, he’s a wizard. Just a wizard. And wizards maybe a figment to the world, but they always come back to create a legacy.

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