Andrew Alderson

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

Cricket: Chasing something special

With one possible innings to come, Taylor's 493 runs are the second-most by a New Zealand batsman in a three-test series. Photo / Getty Images
With one possible innings to come, Taylor's 493 runs are the second-most by a New Zealand batsman in a three-test series. Photo / Getty Images

A jaunty spring was in the step of the New Zealand cricketers strolling home across Seddon Park last night.

So there should be. They are seeking the often elusive excellence and at six without loss chasing 122 to win, they are close to finding it.

Provided they hold their nerve today, a first victory in eight years in a three-test series awaits.

The West Indies are a weak side but the hosts - with Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and Tim Southee at the core - are shaping into a competitive unit.

The reassuring thud of Taylor's bat against West Indian deliveries will be an abiding memory of 2013.

He became the second New Zealander to score three consecutive test centuries while leading his team to parity at tea. New Zealand finished on 349 in reply to the visitors' 367.

Taylor drove a ball for four through extra cover off Tino Best to bring up his milestone.

Mark Burgess is the other New Zealander to achieve the feat. Burgess did it over 27 months (November 1969-February 1972) against three countries (Pakistan, England, West Indies); Taylor achieved the feat in 19 days against one.

"I did think about it today," Taylor said. "A lot of people mentioned it. My wife wasn't at Dunedin or Wellington and she was angry not to see it when she got to Wellington. It was nice to get a hundred for her and [two-year-old daughter] Mackenzie.

"I was getting a bit tired before lunch and the best thing was seeing Mackenzie on the boundary and having a bit of a laugh. Fults [Peter Fulton] also had the almanack out and I was answering questions. It was nice to have a distraction when you bat for that long."

Taylor was caught cutting to third man for 131, just the second time in the series he has been dismissed, giving an average of 246.50. It included 20 runs off the seventh over with the second new ball from Tino Best. The over contained two sixes, Taylor's first of the series.

Taylor achieved a scroll of statistical accolades. His average of 47.49 is the best by a New Zealander who has played more than 20 innings. He joined Nathan Astle on 11 test centuries with only Martin Crowe (17) and John Wright (12) ahead. With one possible innings to come, Taylor's 493 runs are the second-most by a New Zealand batsman in a three-test series (he is 20 runs short of Andrew Jones' 513 against Sri Lanka in 1991). His 864 runs (from 16 innings at an average of 72) are the second-most by a New Zealand batsman in a calendar year (John R Reid's 871 across 24 innings in 1965 remains top).

Taylor is not only poised to re-write the New Zealand record books, he stands poised to join the international greats, if he manages to score another century in his next test - against India at Eden Park in February. If he did so, he would join a select list of 12 men - the only people in the history of cricket to have scored centuries in four successive test matches.

That list contains names like Bradman, Tendulkar, Kallis and Gavaskar. Bradman holds the 'world record', having scored centuries in six successive tests (a record likely never to be broken) and also scored four in a row twice. Kallis, India's Gautan Gambhir and Mohammad Yousuf (Pakistan) scored 100s in five successive tests.

Yesterday Taylor looked at his most composed working the ball into gaps and repelling the nagging middle-and-off line of off-spinner Sunil Narine. Narine was the most dangerous West Indian bowler, especially off a good length, reflected in career-best innings figures of six for 91 from 42.3 overs.

"Narine was the big danger," Taylor said. "It was a bit low and slow and you never felt in on it. Every bowler you have to play differently but with [Shane] Shillingford [absent] we didn't need to worry about the flicky ball, so you had to change your technique and watch it harder."

Boult and Southee shared the stage with Taylor.

Boult's swing, movement, pace and accuracy were evident again following his 10-wicket bag in Wellington. He helped dismiss the West Indies for 103, finishing with figures of four for 23 from 10 overs. He took 20 wickets at 15.40 in the series. The return pushed him to 46 wickets in 12 tests for the calendar year - that's third in the world behind Stuart Broad (59) and James Anderson (48) who have played one more test.

He was helped by Tim Southee's three wickets for 12 off 8.5 overs, including his 100th dismissal. Southee is the 12th New Zealander to complete that feat. He has 18 wickets at 18.11 for the series, taking three wickets in his final over to finish with a career tally of 101.

Supporting both bowlers was sublime catching. Kane Williamson's dive to his right at gully to remove Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Southee's effort low to his left at third slip to dismiss Kieran Powell were catches of the day. BJ Watling produced consistency with the gloves, taking eight catches for the match. He joins Warren Lees and Ian Smith as other New Zealand wicketkeepers to complete the feat; Brendon McCullum leads the list with nine dismissals against Pakistan in 2009.

The West Indies' shot selection was often atrocious as they shuffled across the crease and flayed; it was a sombre walk back to the field for the final two overs.

"To keep the chase down to 122 was outstanding after the aggression and hostility they showed," Taylor said. "Boulty got the wickets but Timmy kept the pressure on and the way we caught was outstanding. They need pats on the back."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 22 Dec 2014 05:56:53 Processing Time: 539ms