31 Dec 2021

Ross Taylor's transformation into the consummate test cricketer

6:23 pm on 31 December 2021

Opinion: I first came across Ross Taylor when he was a teenager. His Palmerston North Boys' High School First XI was playing a side from the Wanderers club of Wellington, for whom I made occasional appearances.

NZ batsman Ross Taylor.
1st cricket test match - New Zealand Black Caps v Australia, day two at the Basin Reserve, Wellington.Saturday, 20 March 2010.

To become a reliable, patient and precise test batter was probably not what everyone predicted for Ross Taylor, Hamish Bidwell writes. Photo: Photosport Ltd

Taylor already had a reputation by then - mostly as a big-hitter of a cricket ball - and sought to live up to it, as his schoolmates assembled around the boundary during their lunch break.

He was particularly keen on slogging our mystery spinner Derek Alabaster. Derek, who answered to the nickname Fossil, was well into his 70s by then, but still a very canny cricketer.

The young Taylor sought to hit every ball from Fossil for six and succeeded a time or two as well before one swipe too many saw him caught in the deep.

Years later, I worked at the then-afternoon paper in Hawke's Bay and covered the Central Districts side, of which Taylor had become a member.

I'd do a split shift in those days, filing copy in the morning for that day's paper, then getting over to McLean Park in the afternoon to watch the Stags.

I didn't see much of Taylor back then. He tended to specialise in run-a-ball 40s, that were well over by the time I made it to the ground.

He was a young man with a lot of shots and a determination to play all of them.

As a quick aside, when CD played away I would have to ring players to get a few quotes from the previous day's play. As I started my shifts anywhere between 6.30 and 7.30am, so did many a Stags player begin their day then too.

Wearily, they'd answer their phone, curse when they realised it was me, then talk me through how they'd played the day before.

In this era of media management and only a selected player - or players - being available for interviews, it now seems absurd that you could once ring an athlete up and talk to them.

I don't mention these things to insert myself into the Taylor story, but to partly explain how far he has come as a cricketer.

Once more a hitter than a batter, Taylor is about to retire as one of the finest test match players this country has ever seen.

Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson celebrate their test championship win over India.

Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson celebrate New Zealand's test championship win over India in Southampton, in England in June. Photo: Photosport

No cricketer is entirely self-made. There are always family members and coaches and mentors who help a player become the best version of themselves.

But when Taylor retires from test cricket, following New Zealand's imminent two-match series against Bangladesh, he will do so having transformed himself as a player.

To become a hugely reliable, patient and precise test batter was probably something not everyone forecast for Taylor. A dashing white-ball batter maybe, but not the consummate test cricketer.

That's remarkable, particularly in an era where guys are fond of saying: "that's the way I play'' as in, this is my method, flawed or otherwise, and I won't be changing for anyone.

Well, Taylor did change and to outstanding effect.

It's time for him to go. He looked mentally cooked, during New Zealand's most recent test match, against India in Mumbai.

His game lacked certainty and confidence and Taylor was back to playing a-shot-a-ball in a desperate attempt to get some rhythm.

That doesn't matter. It's not how the 37-year-old will be remembered and it leaves no stain on his accomplishments.

New Zealand cricket Ross Taylor.


To have scored 19 test hundreds, at an average of 44.87, means Taylor will always be regarded as an all-time New Zealand great. Those are figures comparable with his mentor - the late Martin Crowe - which tells you everything about how telling Taylor's contribution to New Zealand cricket has been.

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

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

Comparisons have often been made between Taylor and his teammate Kane Williamson, but those are odious.

Is Williamson a better batter, with better stats? Sure, but that doesn't diminish the scale of Taylor's achievements.

Samoan, and from smalltown Masterton, success on cricket's highest stages was not a given for Taylor. Even as a prodigious schoolboy talent, converting that promise into high-performance was hardly guaranteed.

I mean, just look at Taylor's contemporary Jesse Ryder.

Every athlete has their own version of success and their own challenges to overcome. Theirs is a journey best-judged by their individual circumstances, rather than mere statistics.

Many of us play sport as children. Some of us are even competent.

But very, very few of us will ever look back and say we got the most out of our talent or our opportunities.

The sports world is full of nearlies and not quites, but you can never put Ross Taylor on that list.

He will retire as a cricketer who achieved every bit of his potential - and then some - and can enjoy the rest of his life knowing there was no more that he could have done.

What a satisfying feeling that must be.

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