12 Mar 2019

Ross Taylor achieves feat most athletes only dream of

9:52 am on 12 March 2019

Opinion - Many young athletes have promise, but few go on to deliver the way Ross Taylor has.

Martin Crowe and Ross Taylor

Context is needed when making comparisons between greats like Martin Crowe and Ross Taylor. Photo: PhotoSport

That's not to say he's the best batsman to ever play cricket for New Zealand. More that he's among a select band who can sit back at the end of their careers and say I couldn't have achieved much more than that.

Taylor's not done on the international stage yet, but when you eclipse marks set by the great Martin Crowe - as the 35-year-old did against Bangladesh at the Basin Reserve on Monday - then your performance requires a bit of context.

Taylor stood out from a young age. With a good eye, fast hands, natural timing and a lot of shots, runs always came at a good clip.

Any doubts there were about him, as he began his first-class career with Central Districts, centred around whether his technique was tight enough for Test cricket. Did he have the temperament to bat for a day and a bit, as opposed to just a session or so?

Fluent 50s are fine and dandy, but it's scoring big hundreds which separates the good players from the very good.

Monday's century (which then became 200) was Taylor's 18th in Test match cricket, joining New Zealand captain Kane Williamson (who already has 20) in going past the tally of 17 that Crowe posted before injury forced him into premature retirement.

In bringing up his 18th hundred Taylor also went past Crowe's mark of 1123 for most test runs scored by a player at the Basin Reserve. Crowe did it in 17 innings, with Taylor taking 21.

The Crowe comparisons are inevitable given the elite batting company Taylor's now in, but also because Crowe made so much of this happen.

Without getting too corny, or detracting from Taylor's own hard work and initiative, it was Crowe's counsel that helped make him the player he is today.

Until his sad death three years ago, aged just 53, Crowe was the man Taylor turned to for advice and inspiration. The continued results are a credit to both of them, while telling an interesting story of their own too.

Martin Crowe and Ross Taylor pose for a picture at the 2013/14 New Zealand Cricket Annual Awards dinner.

Martin Crowe and Ross Taylor at the 2013/14 New Zealand Cricket Annual Awards dinner. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

In 77 test matches Crowe scored 5444 runs at 45.36 including 17 hundreds and 18 fifties. While we're at it, he also amassed 4704 One-Day International runs at 38.55 and a strikerate of 72.

Taylor has now gone past 6700 test runs at an average of 47, to go with 8026 runs at 48.34 in ODI cricket. He also has 20 hundreds - to Crowe's four - in that format at a strikerate of 83.

The numbers are incredible, but perhaps also a reminder of how different the game is now. There were statistical claims just last week that suggested Williamson was now New Zealand's finest test cricketer of all-time and you'd certainly have to say his record is impressive.

Williamson has more than 6000 test runs at a healthy average of 53.20 and, at 28, hopefully still has his best years ahead of him.

But what might Crowe have achieved in this era? Would Taylor ever say he's a better batsman than his mentor? Of course not, he's far too modest for that. But who would say it? That's why comparisons are so odious and numbers often misleading.

Crowe was a semi-professional in a largely amateur age. He battled chronic back and knee problems throughout his career, with the latter forcing him into retirement at only 33.

Players routinely made themselves unavailable to tour the West Indies in Crowe's day. Of those brave enough to go, some came home with broken bones. For others it was their spirit that was smashed to smithereens.

Crowe made 188 against them in Guyana in 1985 then made two hundreds and an 80 when the Windies toured here in 1987. They were by far the best, most ferocious team in the world and Crowe scored runs against them. As far as batting achievements by New Zealanders went back then, there were no better.

Rely on just the statistics, though, and you might assume Taylor's a superior player.

Sadly, there's no extra marks for courage. None for style either. Crowe's batting was beautiful and the envy of backyard cricketers everywhere. If there's a frustration, it's that injury didn't allow him to play as many great innings as he was capable. But not Taylor.

Where Crowe was sometimes unfulfilled in later life and even toyed with a comeback, Taylor can eventually retire knowing he got every ounce out of his ability.

It's a rare feat and one he can be immensely proud of.

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.

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