‘A bit too much has been made of New Zealand being nice guys’
World’s second-best one-day batsman Ross Taylor tells Isabelle Westbury how local knowledge can help tournament dark horses
If there is one team who thrive on going about their business quietly, under the radar, it is New Zealand. Even within this team the names of Kane Williamson, Trent Boult and Tim Southee spring to the fore. But the one man most quietly going about his business, and executing it better than almost any other, is Ross Taylor. He averages 68 from the 59 one-day internationals he has played since the last World Cup, numbers bettered only by Virat Kohli.
“It’s probably experience,” shrugs New Zealand’s all-time leading ODI run-scorer. “When you’ve played 200 games, you know your role in the team and I’m just trying to bat to the situation as best as possible, trust that that is what you are doing right. And more often than not when you gather enough evidence about how to play a certain way, you are making the right decision.”
As the only member of the squad to have featured in three World Cups, there is a sense that this is the moment Taylor’s career has been building towards. He was New Zealand’s leading run-scorer in the 2011 tournament but his average during World Cups, a not-ignoble 36, is more than 10 runs lower than his overall ODI average.
Taylor suggests the structure of past World Cups may have played a part in this statistic, as the group format and participation of lower-ranked teams meant top-order batsmen did not always get much time in the middle. This year, when the 10 teams play each other before the knockout stage, is something the 35-year-old views as a “pretty fair system”.
He is, however, leaving nothing to chance. While nine of New Zealand’s 15-man squad played in the Indian Premier League before the World Cup, Taylor headed to Middlesex, for a stint in county cricket and the less conspicuous Royal London One-day Cup. Taylor, remember, is a man who keeps his head down.
“I just wanted to experience it,” he says. “Cricket is also about knowing the surroundings. It’s not necessarily the wicket; it’s the training facilities, it’s the changing rooms, to get familiar with that.”
This attention to detail is part of a preparation which, Taylor reveals, has been years in the making. “I think that’s a big reason
for why I came over last year to play at Notts,” he says. “That’s still not going to be the difference between you scoring runs, but I think it does help. When you get to a ground and it’s not as foreign as some of the other grounds around the world.”
Taylor is softly spoken and at ease with his lot. It was not always so; a turbulent stint as captain,
which ended in 2012, followed by a vivid description of his failings in Brendon Mccullum’s autobiography, a man he initially beat to the captaincy, has taught Taylor over time to suppress some of his more fiery feelings. “If you win the game and you’re scoring runs,” says Taylor, with an air of finality, “that speaks louder than words a lot of the time.”
Taylor’s approach is reflected in New Zealand’s reputation, of being equanimous, gentlemen cricketers. And no, he is not worried that this might detract from their ability to perform as professional cricketers, something their more pugnacious Australian neighbours have at times been quick to accuse them of.
“You can only be true to yourself and true to your values, I think,” muses Taylor. “A little bit too much has been made of [the ‘nice guys’ moniker]. If someone does get into your face, it’s not as though we are going to take a backward step. But we don’t go out there and outwardly do things. To say that we don’t sledge is probably a little excessive.
“There are a lot of other aspects of cricket – your body language, your presence out there – which are just as valuable. It’s just a different way of skinning a cat, I suppose. As long as you are winning games of cricket, it doesn’t matter.”
After trouncing India in their first warm-up on Saturday, with Taylor contributing 71, winning is exactly what New Zealand are doing. Taylor says that he is more comfortable with his game than at any previous point in his career. Fatherhood has been a large contributing factor.
“I’m sleeping on the couch at the moment,” he says, before explaining that this is only because his 18-month-old youngest child is quite noisy during the night. “A lot of the time, there are a lot of good reasons for your family to come with you [on tour]. It’s a great experience for them, and therefore for you. School is good, but experiencing a different culture and seeing all the landmarks; first and foremost you are a dad and cricket is probably second.”
While New Zealand might not be favourites, do not let that fool you. “We are an aggressive side,” insists Taylor. “And as long as you do it in your own way, you don’t have to be anyone else that you don’t want to be.” As for Taylor, he wants to be a World Cup winner. Do not bet against it.
Man in form: Ross Taylor hits through the off side on his way to making 71 against India on Saturday