Playing in the shadows of a big player is possibly the most unfortunate fate of a player. Ask Rahul Dravid, who spent his entire career overshadowed by the biggest name in cricketing circles, Sachin Tendulkar, or even Hashim Amla, whose tremendous Kohli-like feats go unnoticed in the whirlwind called AB de Villiers.
Ross Taylor of New Zealand is another such player. Having spent most of his career as a talented middle-order batsman, he was rarely pipped to do better than average. The towering presence of Brendon McCullum meant that his moments in the limelight came few and far between.
Right at the time Taylor was starting to peak and McCullum had retirement plans, one felt that New Zealand would finally appreciate the value of Taylor. But then, Kane Williamson emerged. Flamboyant, composed and a match-winner, Williamson sent New Zealand into fits of celebration when he launched Pat Cummins over the long-on ropes in a tense low-scoring thriller in the 2015 World Cup group game.
In the next two years, Williamson's stature grew by leaps and bounds, so much so that he is now a part of the Fab Four in Test cricket, comprising of Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and Joe Root.
That Taylor was enduring a torrid time in Test cricket around the 2014-15 period did not help matters. It seemed like he was destined to remain a wingman forever.
But the tide changed and in the last two years, Taylor has been emphatic. He averages more than Kane Williamson and Tom Latham in Tests since the start of 2016 and has as many hundreds as the skipper.
The table shows the record of New Zealand batsmen since 2016 in Tests.
|Player||Tests since 2016||Runs||Average||100s|
On Monday, he slammed his 17th Test ton to go level with Kane Williamson and the late Martin Crowe on count. His career Test runs have come at an eye-catching average of 48.04.
The late Crowe once wrote on ESPNCricinfo about his first interaction with Ross Taylor, "It's well known that Ross (Taylor) rang me in 2006 and asked me to mentor him. That I didn't know him at all was beside the point. The fact was he stated clearly that he wanted to score more than 17 Test centuries, set a new record for New Zealand. So my reply was an emphatic affirmative. He paid his own way to Auckland, we met, we spoke, and we clicked."
Taylor was an emotional man as he recounted his feat after the day's play at Seddon Park. The welled up eyes revealed what this hundred meant for a man who had for a whole decade remained the lynchpin of New Zealand's middle-order.
Taylor has got one step closer to his dream of crossing Crowe’s century count. At the moment he is level with the late captain and it was only fitting that his 17th ton came against his favourite opposition, West Indies.
The middle-order batsman averages a stunning 68.06 against the Caribbeans in 12 Tests with four hundreds including a double-hundred at Dunedin. On Monday, he crossed 1000 runs against the West Indies in Test cricket and is now New Zealand's highest run-getter against them.
The 33-year-old walked in at a time when New Zealand were 41/2 and resorted to playing second fiddle to a rather aggressive Kane Williamson. The skipper aced his half-century in no time, smashing seven fours in the 13 overs between Latham's dismissal and his own which came soon after he crossed his half-century. Taylor scored none in that period and seemed determined to play himself in before unleashing his shots.
As Miguel Cummins found his groove with some throat-threatening bouncers, Taylor chose to stamp his presence in the match. His first boundary was a cracking pull shot off Cummins and it came nearly 20 overs after he had walked out to the wicket.
Even as Mitchell Santner holed out and Colin de Grandhomme was trapped in front, Taylor did not budge. Cummins kept giving him chin music not knowing that he was aiming at Taylor's strengths.
CricViz estimates that Taylor averages a whopping 70 on the back-foot against pace bowlers while that average dips to 47 when moving onto the front-foot. West Indies bowled nearly 50% of the deliveries short to Taylor during this innings, thus playing to his strengths.
Well and truly in touch by now, Taylor proceeded to decimate the Windies attack and take his side to a declaration score rather quickly. It was helped in parts by West Indies’ poor planning against the right-hander. In his first 60 deliveries, Taylor had hit no boundaries and was silenced by Gabriel's fuller length deliveries.
As they started bowling short, his natural instinct to cut and pull took over and he creamed the quicker bowlers to all corners of Seddon Park. Gabriel, the only bowler who appeared dominant against Taylor, was rarely turned to in the latter half of Taylor's knock. It probably wouldn't have mattered as the middle-order batsman had started nailing every shot in the book. He raced to his 17th Test ton in no time and capped off his record-breaking feat with equally impressive words at the end of the day.
“I met the great man - Hogan (Martin Crowe) in 2006 and he wanted me to make 17 Test hundreds, then get to 18 as well. It's a special moment, but as the game develops, it will sink in a bit more. I'm sure he (Crowe) would be happy”, Taylor said.
Touching interview with one of cricket’s good guys, Ross Taylor, after he reached 17 Test centuries today, the same mark set by his mentor, the late great Martin Crowe. Courtesy of @skysportnz pic.twitter.com/hP98xiG2yI
— Derek Alberts (@derekalberts1) December 11, 2017