Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Taylor's cool control a fine lesson for all

Century twins Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum. Photo / Getty Images
Century twins Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum. Photo / Getty Images

Ross Taylor is offering more than his share of leadership to the national team.

Sir Richard Hadlee provided leadership as a bowling all-rounder rather than captain in his era; Taylor has the potential to do likewise as a batsman and slip fieldsman. He has nine test centuries after 51 tests (and 85 catches).

Martin Crowe (17 test centuries) took 42 tests to hit nine centuries, John Wright (12) took 66 tests to score nine tons and Nathan Astle (11) took 58 tests. Stephen Fleming scored nine centuries in a 111-test career. At 45.55, Taylor has the highest test average of those five, edging ahead of Crowe's 45.36.

His do-as-I-do 217 not out against the West Indies in the drawn first test meant he joined a club of 13 New Zealand test players to make one or more double centuries. Complementing that was a crucial second innings anchor role of 16 not out as the hosts slumped to 44 for four in their stymied chase for 112 to win.

Both innings were a tribute to Taylor's maturity as a test batsman; a masterclass in control, discipline and routine.

His balanced, slightly-open stance; trigger movement to get into line at the point of delivery; and composure playing the ball under the eyes were symphonic during the double ton. Sure, a catch ballooned over the slips when he was on two but the way he stroked the ball along the ground for the most part, or played the percentages to go hard in the air over the offside, was emphatic.

Taylor scored 96 of his runs between backward point and cover and worked a further 55 singles into the leg side; he never launched into his famed slog-sweep and rolled his wrists on three boundaries between midwicket and backward square leg.

Taylor insisted on staying up to midnight after scoring his century to reply to those who passed on congratulations - he left 32 until the next day. The same manners prevent him from prematurely classing himself as a 'great'.

"I think that term is overused a bit. I always wanted to score a double century so I'm just happy with my application and mindset. I had a game plan to stick to, having relaxed after getting to hundreds in the past. I just wanted to get through that opening day and start again. It felt like the last 10 innings in which I'd been not out overnight resulted in a wicket within 15-20 runs the next day. "

The slog sweep was easy to remove: "Sometimes test cricket is about the shots that you don't play. I felt like I had enough options without using that."

Taylor says he's worked on his mental game as much as anything.

"I like to bounce ideas off [mental skills coaches] Gilbert Enoka and Gary Hermansson. The greatest batting challenge, once you know you belong in test cricket, is to develop techniques to control things because you can go through so much nervous energy."

Taylor describes himself as "quite a superstitious person", so much so that an area he kept consistent during his double century was his wardrobe.

"Wags [Dunedin resident Neil Wagner] offered to take my clothes back to his house, put on a load and bring them back the next day. He returned and said, 'Sorry mate, I don't have a drier' but only the socks were a bit damp. It was quite hot out there but I wore the jersey to replicate the opening day."

The removal of the captaincy a year ago saw Taylor return some balance to his life by spending more time with wife Victoria and daughter Mackenzie.

"I'd probably only seen Mackenzie for about two months of the 14 she'd been alive. Seeing her every day made the perfect distraction. I can be quite a serious person and tend to concentrate on cricket a bit too hard, but I gradually became more relaxed."

Taylor's positive influence was widely noted among the touring party on the Bangladesh tour and his joyful embrace with Brendon McCullum upon scoring his century appeared therapeutic and perhaps symbolic.

The only key decision Taylor has to make now is whether attend the birth of his second child during the second test against India in February.

- Herald on Sunday

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