Ross Taylor changed the game

Tracing back the cricket legend's career

In a defining generation for New Zealand cricket, one man has been there through rock-bottom, the rebuild and the renaissance.

There have been glorious purple patches, there have been head-in-hands moments, but when Ross Taylor leaves the field for the final time his place in local and international cricket history is assured.

The ‘dirty slogger’ from Masterton will depart as New Zealand’s most-capped player, its most prolific run-scorer and taker of the most catches in the field.

This is Ross Taylor

The end of a long, thrilling innings

Mar 29, 2022

Debut
ODI v West Indies
15

It’s deep into the summer when Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor debuts for the Black Caps, striding on to his home ground in Napier to Jimmy Barnes’ Working Class Man.

His appearance, in the fourth of five one-day internationals (ODIs) against the West Indies, adds some excitement to what is otherwise a dead-rubber series, New Zealand having already won the first three games.

Selected off the back of an astonishing domestic season, where he averaged 67 for Central Districts in the one-day competition, there are expectations this could be the start of something special.

I don’t want to say he’s brilliant because he ain’t yet, but he’s giving us all a good thrill.
Graham Barlow, Central Districts coach, 2006
A young Ross Taylor, dressed in the green and yellow Central Districts uniform, holds out his cricket bat to acknowledge the crowd.

Ross Taylor chalks up a century for Central Districts in January 2006, right before he was called up to the Black Caps. Mark Dwyer/The Daily News

Ross Taylor chalks up a century for Central Districts in January 2006, right before he was called up to the Black Caps. Mark Dwyer/The Daily News

Mar 01, 2006

Career Runs: 15

A little headshake and a big breath are the only small signs of nerves as Taylor takes his place at the non-striker’s end.

He survives the first delivery and then, four balls into his international career, he pulls a four to midwicket. A few balls later, he picks up an ugly full toss and hits it into the legside for another boundary.

The very next ball, he’s caught offguard when Scott Styris calls for a second run and that’s that — run out on debut for 15.

Though brief, that spell at the crease will prove to be a harbinger of two hallmarks of Taylor’s future batting career: his ability to punish loose balls to the on-side and a seeming knack for running himself or his partner out.

Ross Taylor’s legacy

1:46

Maiden International Century
ODI v Sri Lanka
128 not out

Dec 28, 2006

Career Runs: 199

A rapid-fire 31 off 29 balls in his second ODI whets appetites for what Taylor might be able to achieve with the bat.

That potential is realised when he makes his first international century just five innings into his Black Caps career, in an otherwise dismal showing from the team.

Playing around the ground, more than half his runs come from boundaries, including four sixes.

It’s exciting. If you get two or three dot balls at the other end, you know something is going to happen
Stephen Fleming, Black Caps captain, 2006

It’s the first of 40 centuries Taylor will achieve for New Zealand in all formats — a figure that puts him in the top 20 century-scorers in the world, and 12th for ODIs, the format where he is truly at home. He currently tops both lists for New Zealand.

Mar 5, 2008

Career Runs: 1337

Taylor’s first test century is slower to arrive, in part because he isn’t selected for the test side until 18 months after his short-format debut.

After four unmemorable innings in South Africa, he strikes when England tours New Zealand in March 2008, carefully accruing 120 runs in what he describes at the time as "the most circumspect I’ve ever batted".

It is good to silence a few people who doubted I was good enough to play at this level.
Ross Taylor, March 2008
Ross Taylor is dressed in Test cricketing whites. He is spreading both arms, with his bat in one hand and his helmet in the other, to acknowledge applause from the crowd after making a Test century.

Taylor's lacklustre start to his test career was quickly forgotten when he scored two centuries against England in quick succession, one in Hamilton and the other at Old Trafford in Manchester. NZPA / AP, John Super

Taylor's lacklustre start to his test career was quickly forgotten when he scored two centuries against England in quick succession, one in Hamilton and the other at Old Trafford in Manchester. NZPA / AP, John Super

That circumspection is something Taylor had to work on, for a long time under the eye of batting great Martin Crowe. Early on, Crowe was the one who dismissed him as "nothing but a dirty slogger" before becoming a crucial mentor for the young player.

But while the cut and the straight drive are important weapons in Taylor’s batting arsenal, there is still one deeply unorthodox shot that’s become the hallmark of his game more than any other: the slog-sweep.

A half-volley outside off-stump is Taylor’s favoured prey for the slog-sweep. Often stepping forward from the crease, with the back knee nearly touching the ground, he attacks the ball with a fearless, flat shot, sending it flying out over mid-on.

Taylor's slog-sweep has helped him to 272 career sixes. Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Taylor's slog-sweep has helped him to 272 career sixes. Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Legend of Cricket/YouTube; Sky Sport

It’s not a cricket shot.

More than once it’s been likened to a hockey flick, perhaps unsurprising given Taylor’s exceptional high school record in that sport too.

Whatever it is, it’s effective, though a mistimed slog-sweep has also ended his innings on more than one occasion. He holds the New Zealand record for ODI runs by some distance — and with the best strike rate.

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Aug 10, 2010

Career Runs: 4883

Playing India in Dambulla on August 10, 2010, Taylor partners with Scott Styris to dig New Zealand out of a hole, taking the Black Caps from 28/3 to 288.

In hindsight, it’s a noteworthy match for another reason: it marks the start of New Zealand’s most fruitful batting partnership of all time. Kane Williamson, on debut, faces nine balls with Taylor at the other end before he's skittled for a duck.

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are both wearing the black and white ODI uniform. They meet in the middle of the wicket to bump fists.

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor bat together at the Cricket World Cup 2019 in London. Andrew Cornaga/Photosport.co.nz

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor bat together at the Cricket World Cup 2019 in London. Andrew Cornaga/Photosport.co.nz

Since that forgettable maiden outing with the bat, Taylor and Williamson have stood at the crease another 158 times across all formats, scoring 8018 runs and counting.

Together, they hold the test partnership record in New Zealand by some 1400 runs, with one of the highest averages to boot.

They will fall just three runs short of one more New Zealand record when Taylor retires: with Kane Williamson out of contention for the ODI series against the Netherlands, Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle will remain the highest-scoring career partnership in that format.

Taylor also sets a personal record in the Dambulla match, taking four catches — one of just seven New Zealand players to manage this feat in an ODI.

A wide shot shows Taylor mid-dive with his fist closed around a cricket ball to take a catch as the New Zealand wicket-keeper and the fielder at second slip both watch. The batter, English player Ben Stokes has left his crease to start running but sees over his shoulder that he has been caught.

Taylor takes a diving catch from his regular post at first slip during a test against England in 2019. Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Taylor takes a diving catch from his regular post at first slip during a test against England in 2019. Gareth Copley/Getty Images

He snaffles all four at first slip, a position that will leave the Black Caps with a literal hole to fill when he finally departs.

While many international batters have also made excellent slip fielders, Taylor is so accomplished in the role that he has eclipsed all but Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene and Australia’s Ricky Ponting for all-time catches in the field.

That easily puts him at the top of the New Zealand record tables (though Stephen Fleming has taken a handful more test catches and Martin Guptill holds the T20 record).

But he has also done it with the best catching rate, averaging two catches for every three innings he’s fielded in.

There’s a mythology around Taylor and run-outs, that peaks when people talk about his partnership with Kane Williamson.

It’s true that Taylor has been involved in a lot of run-outs over his career, including three very early on that perhaps laid the legend’s foundation stone.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

But like all folklore, the truth is more mundane.

Taylor has been run out 33 times but he has also batted 507 innings — a run-out rate of 6.5 percent. It’s higher than the all-time historical percentage of 5.5 percent, but not wildly so. He’s also been at the other end another 40 times when batting partners have been run out; some of them victims of bad calls by Taylor, others self-inflicted.

Here’s where he sits relative to the top 20 all-time run-scorers.

Jan 7, 2011

Career Runs: 5374

The first Taylor-Williamson run-out comes in the middle of a total New Zealand batting collapse one summer’s day in Hamilton in early 2011, during a test against Pakistan.

Williamson, fresh at the crease, calls for a second run that just doesn’t exist and Taylor falls.

Nearly three years pass before the next run-out involving the pair, when Taylor is run out on Boxing Day 2013 in front of a huge crowd at Eden Park.

A month later they do it again and the following year Taylor repeats his Boxing Day feat, once more with Williamson at the other end.

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor walk from the cricket pitch holding their bats and helmets. Kane Williamson has his arm around Taylor's shoulder and both of them look tired but happy.

Williamson and Taylor celebrate victory over India in the 2021 ICC World Test Championship Final in Southampton, England. Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Williamson and Taylor celebrate victory over India in the 2021 ICC World Test Championship Final in Southampton, England. Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Since then, they’ve limited the damage to about one a year, for a total of nine run-outs in 159 partnerships — a completely average 5.5 per cent — but the legend lives on.

First double century
Test v West Indies
217 not out

Dec 3, 2013

Career Runs: 8723

Over a magical fortnight in December 2013, Taylor hits a streak of form that sees him score three centuries in as many tests against the West Indies.

The first test in Dunedin brings him his first double century in any form of the game, in a commanding eight-hour performance that only ends with a declaration. There are no sixes or slogs, just an innings chockful of cover drives and cuts to backward point.

The fella is a class act.
Tino Best, West Indies fast bowler
A cricket scoreboard with bright yellow figures against a black background shows Ross Taylor on 202 runs not out.

The University Oval scoreboard in Dunedin notes Taylor's first double century, against the West Indies in 2013. Taylor went on to make 217 not out. Rob Jefferies/Getty Images

The University Oval scoreboard in Dunedin notes Taylor's first double century, against the West Indies in 2013. Taylor went on to make 217 not out. Rob Jefferies/Getty Images

Taylor's follow-up centuries in Wellington and Hamilton have commentators reaching for the record books, while his mentor Martin Crowe says he believes Taylor could be the first New Zealand batsman to make 20 test centuries.

In the end it is Kane Williamson who reaches this target first, in 2019, with Taylor falling agonisingly short on 19.

Williamson will also very likely pass Taylor for most test runs before his own career ends — but Taylor will retire as the current New Zealand record-holder.

Feb 3, 2015

Career Runs: 10664

Taylor’s fastest century comes up in a maelstrom of big hitting, swatting 102 not out off just 70 balls against a helpless Pakistan bowling line-up.

The back-half of the century comes from just 21 balls, with a six and a four to finish off the job.

This is a milestone for New Zealand too, marking the side’s 100th ODI hundred.

Taylor has scored most of his ODI centuries at close to or more than a run a ball but his test batting has been, appropriately, more measured. Just one test century innings has come faster than a run a ball: a knock of 138 from 104 balls against Australia in Hamilton in 2010.

Nov 13, 2015

Career Runs: 11879

In the most hostile of conditions, Taylor pulls off the pinnacle achievement of his career.

Playing an away test series against Australia, he is out for a duck and 26 in the first test — and is secretly struggling to see the ball.

Ross Taylor salutes the crowd after making a double century against Australia in Perth. Getty Images

Ross Taylor salutes the crowd after making a double century against Australia in Perth. Getty Images

Days before the second test in Perth, he is diagnosed with a growth condition in his eyes called pterygium. The stop-gap solution is eye drops and opening his eyes as wide as possible.

Taylor arrives at the crease late in the day, with New Zealand precariously poised on 87 for two, after Australia declared for 559. A handful of boundaries help him scratch his way to 26 at the close of play, with Williamson steady at the other end.

A few overs into the next day, Taylor loosens up and the runs start flowing. He brings up 50 with a drive to mid-on and his hundred with a cut down to third man. Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Johnson are all punished. He survives the loss of Williamson (who is out for 166), Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling to bring up his double century — a first for any New Zealander against Australia.

The milestones fly past now. Just a few runs later he notches up 5000 career test runs, then surpasses his previous high score of 217. Tantalisingly close to 300 runs, he top-edges a ball while going for his favourite slog-sweep. A huge cry of "Catch!" goes up and the fielder in the deep takes it.

Gone for 290: an all-time high-score against Australia, in Australia.

He’s furious at himself. He need not be — he’s played one of the great innings. History will remember it.
Mark Nicholas, Channel Nine commentary team

Dec 15, 2018

Career Runs: 15356

Despite swings in and out of form, Taylor’s run accumulation is surprisingly steady over the years. Each 5000 career runs has taken him about four years to accrue and that pace has only dropped a little since the beginning of 2020.

He scores his 30th test half-century against Sri Lanka in December 2018 to overtake Stephen Fleming’s record of 15,319 runs as New Zealand’s most prolific run-scorer across all formats.

A few months later he passes Fleming again to take the ODI runs record and a year later Fleming’s test runs record topples to Taylor as well.

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Ross Taylor is shown mid-bowling action, just after he has released the ball. His face shows exertion, with his cheeks puffed out and his eyebrows raised.

Taylor bowls for the first time since 2010 during his final test match. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Taylor bowls for the first time since 2010 during his final test match. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Final Test
New Zealand v Bangladesh
28
1 wicket

Jan 9, 2022

Career Runs: 18173

The sky is darkening over Hagley Oval in Christchurch as one wicket stands between New Zealand and a test victory over Bangladesh.

In his early days, Taylor had a very sporadic cameo in the side as an off-break bowler. He even took two test wickets against India in 2010, but it’s been nearly a decade since his captain last handed him the ball.

His appearance with the bat was low-key, scoring 28 before being caught out.

Now, with a New Zealand win almost assured and only an over or two of play left in the day, rumours spread that Taylor might be handed the ball as his final act in test cricket.

“Bowl Ross Taylor!” the crowd on the embankment shouts.

Taylor and his fellow slip fielders keep looking at one another, grinning. Taylor, bashful, shrugs his shoulders.

With the dimming light taking New Zealand’s seamers out of contention, stand-in captain Tom Latham beckons his senior colleague over and tells him to toss one up.

He loops two dot balls over the wicket before coming around the wicket on the third delivery to bowl a full ball outside the off-stump — the kind of delivery that Taylor himself would be tempted by. Ebadot Hossain slashes at it and it skies up over midwicket, where Latham is waiting.

Ross Taylor is shown smiling with both his index fingers raised to indicate a wicket. Ebadot Hossain, who was caught off Taylor's bowling, leaves the field at the side of the image. Taylor's captain Tom Blundell and his teammate Will Young run in with their arms raised to congratulate Taylor.

Taylor sheepishly acknowledges taking the wicket of Ebadot Hossain as his teammates rush in to congratulate him. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Taylor sheepishly acknowledges taking the wicket of Ebadot Hossain as his teammates rush in to congratulate him. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Taylor, standing on the field after he has taken the wicket of Ebadot Hossain, grins as he is mobbed by a group of fellow Black Caps.

The wicket, just the third Taylor has taken in international cricket, provided a magical ending to his test career. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

The wicket, just the third Taylor has taken in international cricket, provided a magical ending to his test career. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

And so Ross Taylor — one of the great New Zealand batters — closes out his test career a bowling hero.

Just one ODI series against the Netherlands remains. It’s been two years since Taylor's last century: does the fairytale ending have one final coda?

In a wide shot taken from a high angle, Ross Taylor walks off a cricket field, holding his bat and helmet and dressed in the black New Zealand ODI uniform. He is a small figure against the bright green backdrop.

Chris Hillock/Waikato Times

Chris Hillock/Waikato Times

Data used in this story was sourced from espncricinfo.com.

Reporting and data: Kate Newton
Design and development: Alex Lim
Editor: John Hartevelt

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