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Understanding Ross Taylor’s final slog sweep in India

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With Kane Williamson’s availability for Bangladesh a doubt after the tennis elbow, Taylor could perhaps get a chance to bow out in front of his home crowd.
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Jeremy Coney, former New Zealand captain, hesitated on air during his commentary stint on SENZ radio. Slowly, he began to voice out his bafflement at Ross Taylor’s eight-ball-eight-lives catty knock. “Ross Taylor will be embarrassed for sure … It looks bad. Everyone will say what he was thinking. And they are right. I don’t know what to say about that innings,” Coney would say.

He swung. He slogged. He heaved. He moved around. He dashed out. And he combusted with the signature slog sweep. If ever a GIF is made of his career, the most popular choice would be that slog sweep. Shoaib Akhtar. Lasith Malinga. Flip book of bowlers shredded. And it was that finally ended his misery on potentially his last Test in India. It also raises questions about his career. On the radio, Coney’s colleague Richard Petrie, former seamer, was more forthright in saying that selectors should have a word with him. EXIT lights are blinking. In Neon Red.

New Zealand play Bangladesh at home next in January and then have a two-Test series against South Africa at home in February. With Kane Williamson’s availability for Bangladesh a doubt after the tennis elbow, Taylor could perhaps get a chance to bow out in front of his home crowd.

But the Mumbai knock seems to have jarred New Zealand experts and fans (going by the number of text messages to the radio that the host mentioned). They felt that being a senior batsman, and especially in the absence of Williamson, he could have shown better fight rather than playing like an inebriated pirate flailing at thin air, alone on a sinking ship, as if a personal ode to better days of valour.
New Zealand fans’ reaction is understandable of course – not long ago he had partnered Williamson in a tremendous stand that helped New Zealand defy India for long hours and win the world Test championship. Mumbai’s knock would have seemed bizarre and perhaps a touch self-destructive.

But in some sense, for us who have watched him in India, the failure wasn’t an anomaly. He averages barely 21 from 10 Tests in India. Defensive prods haven’t helped him either. Willing to look ugly hasn’t helped. Willing himself into a scrap as he tried in Kanpur hasn’t done much. His game just doesn’t have the wheels necessary to hum along in India. This was his last knock in India. Over 500 runs were needed on a track where a fellow Kiwi got 14 wickets. Over the years, he had tried everything in India and failed. Why not for one last hurray go for it pirate style, go down swinging. At least try.

Yes, he could have waited to adjust to the bounce and turn a tad longer. And all the associated cries of sense and rationality. But on a day like this, with the curtain slowly coming down on his career, a bit of self-indulgence can’t be surely held against him? More so since nothing much has worked for him in this country before. And once you get into plunder-runs-or-get-out mood, sensible aggression and calculated risks fly out of the brain. It can get scrambled.

Has he overachieved or underachieved in Tests?

An average of 44.87 is about par with his talent. His detractors and fans cherry pick. The former go after his averages in South Africa (7.83 ) and India (21.15), but his fans like to remember the good times — 41.73 in Australia and 40.62 in England. South Africa is a bit skewed, though. He played four Tests – 2 in 2007 and 2 in 2016 and was run out twice.

With his game, the inconsistency was a given but he has roused himself to produce the special hair-raising knocks. Just when he was about to be sacked as a Test captain, in a palace-coup of sorts which emotionally affected his mentor Martin Crowe so much that he burned his Test blazer in protest, Taylor smashed a brilliant hundred in Sri Lanka to win a Test. Even the coach Tim Hesson, instrumental in the sacking, called it a “genius of an innings”. Taylor was a popular figure and Hesson had hate-mail and had “faeces put on my front door” in the aftermath of the sacking.

But this isn’t intended to be a career appraisal but to try to understand the ‘Mumbai harakiri’.

With his iffy defensive game, grafting on turners has been unsurprisingly not easy. The bat comes down from gully almost, the front leg is always stretching across and he then has to adjust both – the feet and the hands – to get some wood in the way of the leather. Not a surprise that he can push inside or outside the line. His front foot poses the threat of lbw. His hands threaten to warm the palms of the close-in fielders. The average of 21.15 then isn’t a surprise. He also has the tendency to start badly in a series before slowly peaking. With New Zealand getting two-Tests series, he can’t afford slow starts.

So, on a final Test knock in a country where he has tried everything and failed, where he doesn’t have the game to hold up the fort on turners, especially at this stage in his career, one manic blood rush should not be held against him. One slog sweep for the road. Who can grudge him that?

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