As New Zealand prepare for next week’s Test at Lord’s, Ross Taylor speaks to Taha Hashim about his long-standing relationship with the iconic venue, the aftermath of the 2019 World Cup final and the impact of his mentor, Martin Crowe.
Ross Taylor is talking from the Ageas Bowl, where next month New Zealand will take on India in a historic one-off game to determine the winners of the inaugural World Test Championship. But before we get to Southampton, we’ve got to begin at Lord’s.
In another world, that’s where the two-year tournament was set to come to its conclusion. But earlier this year the ICC settled on the south coast, aiming to minimise the risks of Covid-19 transmission by creating a bio-secure bubble for the showpiece affair.
And so, while there’s safety, there’s also a little less romance. Taking home a world title at Lord’s would have formed quite the narrative after the heartbreak New Zealand endured two years ago in that final. Additionally, for Taylor, it could have been glory at a ground that helped kick off a record-breaking career. As a teenager, the boy from Masterton left home for a summer on the MCC Young Cricketers scheme, honing his batting technique in second XI cricket while spending time on the Lord’s groundstaff. “Not a bad office for an 18-year-old,” says Taylor, now 37, as he rewinds the tape back to 2002.
“It was nice to go from a little place like Masterton with about 20,000 people, to the big lights of London and having to grow up pretty quickly in life and in a cricketing sense. It probably opened my eyes to wanting to be a professional cricketer and hopefully coming back in years to come to represent my country.”
Thirty-eight international centuries later, Taylor was in the home dressing room with Middlesex for a brief county stint in 2019. A few months after that, he was in the away one with New Zealand, after being on the wrong end of one of the greatest games of cricket ever played. What was said in that room after the tournament came to the most dramatic of conclusions?
“Nothing was said,” Taylor replies. “We didn’t have a meeting afterwards. I don’t think there was anything you could’ve said that would have justified it. It was strange – the modern way is you have all these debriefs. We didn’t talk about it. The emotion of it, the elation from England’s point of view, the disappointment from us, we were still trying to grapple with it in our heads for hours. It took me a week to have a proper sleep after that, umming and ahing what we could have done differently.”
The wider significance of what took place that day would hit soon after. “I flew my family over for the final and I thought I just wanted to get out of England, so we went to Paris for a few days. It was strange that you’d lost the World Cup final, you’d got to a foreign country that doesn’t even follow cricket, and still people were coming up to you at the Eiffel Tower or in the Métro to say commiserations. The game obviously must have touched a lot of people.
“We had a lot of luck leading up to that final and I think we just used it all up. England got the luck, and it was a tie at the end of the day, but it was nice to be a part of what probably was the best World Cup final ever and probably one of the best one-day games of all time.
“Things have moved on and all the players sort of joke about it now, which I think is a good place to be… I think we’ve all moved on, in a good way.”
The words have a philosophical touch and they’re not exactly a surprise – Taylor is a member of a New Zealand team known to be The Nice Guys of the world game. But they can play too; earlier this year Kane Williamson’s men topped the Test rankings for the first time and they currently sit at the top of the ODI table.
The WTC final offers another opportunity for the current crop to showcase themselves as their country’s greatest side, and there is also a sense that this could be the culmination of an era. With long-serving wicketkeeper BJ Watling to retire after the final, Taylor can see “a changing of the guard” taking place in the near future.
“With BJ leaving, that’s the end of an era. He’s been fantastic for us, the way he’s been the glue of the middle-to-lower order and just been our rock behind the stumps. Tom Blundell and the keepers to come have big shoes to fill. He’s very quiet with how he goes about things, but when he talks, people listen. He’s been a great ambassador for New Zealand cricket and hopefully we can give him a good send-off in the final for what has been a fantastic career.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of retirements in the coming years, almost a changing of the guard over the next little while. Southee, Boult and Wagner – they can’t go on forever, and bowling is a hard art. But you never know, they could do a Jimmy Anderson and go on until they’re 39 or 40.”
This brings us to Taylor himself, now in his 16th year as an international cricketer. At present he finds himself out of New Zealand’s T20I side, while he only hit one Test half-century in 2020. His body has also caused him some trouble, with a calf problem being managed ahead of the upcoming two-Test series with England. But still, after all these years, he wants to look forward. “I love the game, I love playing for my country. I think a lot’s made of players’ ages, but it’s nice that in a lot of sports, not just cricket, players are playing for a lot longer… I’m not saying I’ll be looking to play into my forties, but I still feel, at 37, that’s still young.”
Even if it all did suddenly come to a halt tomorrow, the CV would still leave you in awe. No New Zealander has more ODI runs, while last January, against Australia, Taylor became his country’s leading run-scorer at Test level, surpassing Stephen Fleming. At a press conference afterwards, he was visibly emotional when asked about the late Martin Crowe, one of New Zealand’s greatest-ever batsmen and a mentor to Taylor.
“Martin’s been a big part of my career and it was a goal [to become New Zealand leading Test run-scorer] he’d set for me. It wasn’t a goal I’d set myself. It was nice to get there and knock off one of the goals he’d set for me.”
Taylor recalls when that relationship began, before he’d made the leap into the Test game. “As a kid growing up, I was always good at playing one-day cricket. I wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t say I was great at the longer form. It was something I wanted to do, improve on and then play Test cricket. I knew I had to find a game and still be authentic to myself, but just curb a few different things. Talking to my manager, I thought the best person to help me out with that was Marty and I rang him up and he was open from the get-go. We had a love for cricket, but we also had a love for wine and the relationship grew from there.”
And what did he think when Crowe, back in the mid-Noughties, set him the goal he’d go on to achieve at the start of this decade? “He put it down on paper and I said, ‘If you think so…’ I thought there was absolutely no chance.”
Crowe himself played for the MCC Young Cricketers and went on to hit two Test centuries at Lord’s. Taylor is yet to put his name on the Honours Board – joining his mentor on the list next week would go down well with the game’s romantics.