His last Test innings in India lasted only eight balls, but it could define how Ross Taylor’s career goes from hereon, writes Sarah Waris.
Ball one had Ross Taylor driving at and missing a ripping off-break delivery that flew past the inside edge for four byes. If not for the awkward bounce at Wankhede, the Kiwi batter’s last Test knock in India would have been a golden duck. Ball two, a slower delivery, had Taylor attempt a sweep only to be beaten by R Ashwin. Ball three was bowled shorter by the off-spinner and Taylor tentatively chopped it towards backward point for one. Ball four could have been the end for Taylor once more as the ball went off the face of the bat towards Suryakumar Yadav. Ball five saw Taylor reach out for a drive, while ball six was a lucky four as the batter slogged across the line of the ball only to be saved by the slight inside edge. On ball seven, Taylor came down the track for a driven single, and finally, on ball eight he went for a slog-sweep after he failed to read Ashwin’s off-break, with the top edge settling firmly in Cheteshwar Pujara’s hands.
As he walked back to the pavilion for six, experts and fans alike tried to make sense of the hara-kiri batting they had witnessed in front of them. In Kane Williamson’s absence, Taylor was expected to lead by example, but yet another dismal outing could mean that the selectors converge sooner than later to discuss his future plans.
Is Ross Taylor’s form really that bad?
A batter’s real Test comes in Asia, especially in India, they say. Taylor, for all his achievements, hasn’t ever mastered the conditions in the country. After 10 Tests, he averages 21.15 with one hundred and one fifty, with the ton coming back in 2012. He has toured India four times (2010, 2012, 2016, and 2021), with his best outing being the 2012 series, when he piled on 157 runs in two games. The other three times his average remained below 30, with the number falling to less than 15 on the last two tours, and five this time around. Taylor has never had the best defence against spin, and his numbers in India, thus, do not come as much of a surprise.
What does, though, has been how dismal his outings have been in the last few seasons. Taylor’s career average of 44.87 portrays a player who qualifies as a New Zealand great, but not an all-time one. However, he has made it a habit of notching up crucial runs when the team was in dire need. From his debut till the end of 2017, Taylor averaged 64.58 in wins, scoring nine of his 17 Test tons in victory. Since then, though, his performances in New Zealand’s successes have dwindled, with his average in wins slipping to less than 40, to read 38.15. Overall, in this period, Taylor averages 34.30 in 27 games, which is the worst among all Kiwi batters or all-rounders with a minimum of 15 Tests.
A player with 110 Tests would have been looked to as the pioneer of New Zealand’s campaigns overseas, but his away average (including neutral venues) of 25.82 since the beginning of 2018 further compounds his woes. His average is largely due to an inflated figure in England (42.33), and Sri Lanka (37.33), but in all the other countries that he visited in the last few years, his average has never reached more than 25.33. New Zealand played a total of 13 games away since 2018, with Taylor taking part in all those matches. His average remains the seventh-worst away among New Zealand players with a minimum of 150 runs scored overseas.
However, write off players with the experience of Taylor at your own peril. In June, the 37-year-old had combined with Williamson with the scoreboard reading 44-2, playing an important 47 not out in 100 deliveries to take his team to the maiden World Test Championship crown. His determination and his experience, then, had blunted the India pace attack, as the cricketer gave a glimpse of his aura.
However, his technical flaws are hard to ignore of late: his front foot stretches across and his bat comes down at an angle that means he has to move a great deal to get to the ball. He is at a greater risk of the lbw or bowled, with 39 per cent of his dismissals since 2018 being either of the two. He has always found it tough against pace and bounce, which explains his average of just under eight in South Africa. His average of 41.73 in Australia is heightened due to the 290 he scored on a flat track Perth in 2015, without which his average falls to just over 27 in the country.
Those numbers coupled with his recent form that seems to go from bad to worse might make it tough for the Black Caps to persist with Taylor for much longer. There are also players to fit into the side. Devon Conway was ruled out of the India tour with injury, and with Will Young impressing in his absence, there is a dilemma over how they should line up when everyone is fit. With two home series lined up for the side, against Bangladesh and South Africa, a farewell for Taylor might not be too far-fetched to imagine.