Relaxed Taylor laughing loudest

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

Plunket Shield

McLean Park, Napier

He wasn't talking. He simply had his head down, content to play bat/pad in the nets at Nelson Park, Napier, for now.

But then again, did Ross Taylor really need to say anything at all?

When the Devon Hotel Central Districts Stags batsman left the international scene after the Sri Lankan tour, he was in great nick.

Someone who wished to remain anonymous but knows a lot about batting at elite level remarked: "Ross is the only world-class batsman we have in test cricket, isn't he?"

Big call from anonymous one but a fairly prudent one if the Blacks' two-test drubbing in South Africa this month is anything to go by.

"He tells me he was hitting balls for a couple of weeks," CD coach Alan Hunt said before the Stags host the Canterbury Wizards at McLean Park, Napier, from today as the four-day Plunket Shield competition resumes.

"It's not batting in the middle but his timing's good, he's finding form and fitting in well," Hunt said of the Stag who has divided the country's opinion on his treatment but overwhelmingly won the support of most cricket fans.

Taylor, who was unceremoniously dumped from his role as New Zealand captain by Black Caps coach Mike Hesson with the help of the NZ Cricket board following the tour of Sri Lanka before Christmas, took time off to mentally prepare for his return to international cricket here against England next month.

A leaked letter New Zealand bowling coach Shane Bond had written to NZ Cricket early last month reignited the debate.

In it Bond labelled Hesson "dishonest", questioning his timing of Taylor's sacking which "seemed like a sabotage" and was critical of the coach's subsequent "cover up to save face".

Yesterday's one-day international series 2-0 lead over the Proteas is a timely distraction for new skipper Brendon McCullum who also came under scrutiny.

If Taylor still harbours any emotions, after taking time out since his eviction to get his mind set right, then he wasn't showing it yesterday.

He laughed and joked with squad members and even cheekily pulled out his cellphone after his net stint to snap a photo of TV camera men and interviewers zooming in on his every move.

If that was the result a grinning Taylor had set out to achieve it had worked - the zoom-zoom boys packed up their gear and left minutes later.

In between jokes, Taylor took throw downs and advice from former New Zealand coach Mark Greatbatch and also chatted with team sports psychologist Gary Hermansson, 72, of Palmerston North.

Hunt said CD weren't going to sit back on their haunches to retain their leaders' perch despite a 17-point lead although a team can claim a maximum 20 points in a match. Also, CD and second-placed Otago Volts have played one game more than the other four teams.

"It's better to win a game if we want to win the shield," Hunt impressed ahead of the clash with the fifth-placed Wizards on 39 points today.

It has been a disappointing HRV Cup Twenty/20 campaign for the Stags who finished dead last on the table with only two wins to their credit, prompting veteran Mathew Sinclair to reveal CD wanted nothing less than the shield bragging rights and defending their Ford Trophy one-day title.

"We can't afford to dwell on the T20, which was a painful experience, because now we have to move to a different format," Hunt said of the first shield game for CD at McLean Park this summer after hosting the Wellington Firebirds just before Christmas in a T20 affair.

New Zealand Cricket has ruled Doug Bracewell will not play until the next round against the Auckland Aces who, in third place, are nipping at the Volts' heels.

"He's rested. Unfortunately that's what it is," Hunt said of the Black Caps opening seamer who has returned from South Africa.

Bracewell yesterday fronted up to TV cameras, lauding his teammates for their one-day series victory and throwing weight behind McCullum as a capable skipper.

Ex-Black Caps wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk returns from a finger injury after playing a couple of premier club matches for Ruahine Motors Central Hawke's Bay last weekend.

CD look thin in the bowling department with Black Cap Adam Milne also withdrawing from the Black Caps ODI series against South Africa with a recurring ankle injury.

Seamer Andrew Lamb, who made his T20 debut, is also out with a hamstring injury.

That leaves Andrew Mathieson, Zimbabwe speed merchant Kyle Jarvis, medium pacer Roald Badenhorst and tweakers Tarun Nethula and Ajaz Patel in the mix.

Captain Kieran Noema-Barnett and in-form shield batsman Carl Cachopa also offer back-up bowling options.

"They are allrounders and not Milney or Bracewell," Hunt said as Milne got more attention on the physiotherapist's bench.

Patel is likely to run out the snake lollies today considering Jeet Raval can back up Nethula as a part-time spinner if required.

He felt the Peter Fulton-captained Wizards have similar woes to CD so it should make a good contest.

Canterbury coach Gary Stead yesterday agreed Taylor was a class act in a team thriving in the first-class format.

"Look, hopefully he's been eating some Christmas pud [and] hasn't been practising too much," the former White Ferns coach said.

Stead wished Taylor luck on his return to the international arena but "not too much luck against us".

Andrew Ellis, Ryan McCone and Matt McEwan will spearhead their bowling attack from today.

Todd Astle and Tim Johnston will be their spin attack.

Stead said opening batsman George Worker would no doubt want to prove himself against his former team.

The shield format was what his boys looked forward to playing most.

Points: CD 74, Otago 57, Auckland 51, Wellington 47, Canterbury 39, ND 35.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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