A career-best 181 with a limping foot. Arguably, the best ever knock by a New Zealander in limited-overs' cricket. Two tons in the series and both coming in winning causes. At 34, Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor is well and truly thriving, much to the relief of his admirers.
Taylor is around for ages. First burst onto the scene as a dasher way back in 2005-06 home season, the right-hander is currently one of the most experienced cricketers around in world cricket who still features in all three formats. However, despite all these years of experience and batting averages in Tests and ODIs close to 50, Taylor has never been considered as a contemporary great. Even in New Zealand, at times, all his feats have never got the kind of recognition or appreciation which Kane Williamson's achievements receive and critics are always quick to blame his inconsistency for their stand. Fair enough.
Whether we agree or not, Taylor has never made the full use of his talent, at least in the initial five-six years of his career. Time to time, there have been flashes of brilliance, but his temperament as a top batsman has always been under scrutiny. Furthermore, a disastrous stint as a captain also had its effect on his batting. Even in the late 2016, there was a serious threat hovering over his career because of the growth of a pterygium in his left eye, which did not allow him to spot the ball properly on the field, particularly during day-night games. He even admitted to not being able to see the swinging ball properly while batting. Pressure was mounting, but Taylor was adamant to continue.
He went for a surgery and when he came back against Bangladesh, at the end of January last year, things started to move to in the right direction. It was not that his form prior to the surgery had fallen off — far from it — but since coming back in action, he has been racking up runs far more consistently, scoring 408 runs at 81.60 in five Tests and 1260 at 57.27 from 27 ODIs, prior to Wednesday’s encounter against England.
In December last year, Taylor ended his 19-month exile from New Zealand’s T20I outfit in the three-match home series against West Indies.
Someone who was almost on the verge of being written off couple of years back, he is now the most prolific run-scorer in the New Zealand middle-order and arguably their main batsman alongside Williamson going into the 2019 World Cup.
After being sidelined by a thigh injury and watching New Zealand crumble against spin from the dugout in the previous game at the Westpac Stadium, Taylor was determined to make a strong statement when he came out to bat in this do-or-die fixture. Remember, New Zealand were 2 for 2 in the third over, chasing 336, when Taylor came in. England, fresh from their 4-1 series win over Australia, have a lively seam attack. But, with his quick feet, Taylor was up to mark.
He took his time initially and when he got the measure of the pitch, there was no stopping his stroke play.
When the ball was full, he drove it between mid-off and mid-on and when bowlers pitched it short, his favourite cut shot scorched through the turf. The first fifty of his innings came in 48 balls and second one in another 50 deliveries.
Soon after reaching his ton, Taylor damaged his thigh while taking a quick single. He looked in severe pain. Physio Tommy Simsek made several trips and asked him if he wanted to carry on or retire hurt. But being a senior pro, he decided to take the responsibility and continue.
He couldn’t run those quick ones and twos. Hence, slogging was the only option left and Taylor implemented that brilliantly. The trademark slog sweeps, the hoicks through the long-on region, the cuts, the pulls — everything was evident on the field and the English bowlers did not seem to have an answer to that counter-attack.
Taylor’s third fifty came in just 27 deliveries and eventually remained unbeaten when New Zealand drew level in the series.
Still there is no certainty whether Taylor will be available for Saturday’s series-decider. But the entire nation wants him to take the field, desperately.
In perhaps the last lap of his career, Taylor is finally getting the appreciation which he truly deserves. As they say, late is better than never.