New Zealand in Australia 2015-16 November 23, 2015

Ross Taylor treats himself

How Ross Taylor reconciled with New Zealand cricket and made the highest score by a visiting batsman in Australia

"To say that it's been an easy ride since would be naive and an understatement, but it's definitely satisfying when you have innings like the other day." © Getty Images

Where Ross Taylor grew up, the dinner treat was a trip to KFC. There was no McDonald's in Masterton, 100km north-east of Wellington, so the reward of fried chicken became customary to a polite, cricket-keen youngster with dreams of growing up to become one of New Zealand's finest batsmen.

A few days ago, after his epic 290 had not only thwarted Steven Smith's team but also made him the holder of the highest score by a visiting batsman in Australia, Taylor re-enacted this childhood ritual. With the help of a couple of team staff members, he made a satisfying trip to a Perth drive-thru. It was a moment of simple enjoyment: given the travails of Taylor's recent past, not even the most ardent dietitian could possibly begrudge him that.

Taylor fought plenty of obstacles to reach a score so lofty, not least the eye trouble that had afflicted him at the Gabba and compelled him to visit a specialist between Tests. Then there was the blow to the testicles in Zimbabwe that required extensive treatment and is still a source of some apprehension - another two months need to pass before Taylor is considered 100% fine to cop another hit to the box.

But these matters are merely subplots within the wider struggle that played out so publicly three years ago. In summary, Taylor's fledgling captaincy was questioned by the coach Mike Hesson not long after he replaced John Wright. In Sri Lanka, Hesson told Taylor he did not think he was the best man for the job, and a compromise splitting the captaincy between Taylor and Brendon McCullum was mooted. A seriously hurt Taylor declined the reduced commission, and took time out from the game. New Zealand Cricket later apologised to him for how it all played out.

It would be hard to find a more personable or likeable character than Taylor. After a couple of initial interviews in which he conveyed his dismay, he has chosen to keep these matters to himself, but in reflecting upon his achievement at the WACA Ground, Taylor admitted the adversity of 2012 had shown him what was possible.

"When the captaincy issue happened, I was only sleeping for a couple of hours a night for two weeks leading into that, and I had to bat pretty much a day in Sri Lanka," Taylor told ESPNcricinfo. "That more than anything showed me I didn't need sleep, or that you are going to be tired, but your mental strength has to take over. From that point of view Colombo was just as hot and probably muggier, and to have batted that long on two hours' sleep each night for two weeks just shows you the mental strength you can gather from previous experiences.

"We were so far behind the game [in Perth] that the motivation to get close to their score was always in the back of your mind, and we've fielded a lot on this trip and I didn't really want to field that day either. It was a pretty easy decision to try and stay out there. It was always a goal of mine to bat a day in a Test match, I'd never batted a day in any form of cricket, so to bat a whole day in that heat and against that bowling line-up was satisfying."

How different things might have been. For a few days after that Colombo Test, Taylor's love for the game was seriously tested. Conversations with his friend and mentor Martin Crowe helped pull him back from that precipice. "It was what I wanted to do since I was a little kid, and there's only one New Zealand team you can play for, so it was a pretty easy decision," Taylor said on reflection. "To say that it's been an easy ride since would be naive and an understatement, but it's definitely satisfying when you have innings like the other day."

Even so, the mental anguish of that Sri Lanka tour did not abate quickly upon Taylor's return to the team. Crowe has depicted a sense of isolation, nights alone getting room service and enduring fretful sleep. "While away overseas on tour, he was living a cricketing nightmare," Crowe wrote in 2013. "In other words, his nights were spent fretting on what he thought was the only thing he had left in the game - his batting. He had forgotten about himself."

"Goals aren't the be all and end all, but they're a point you can have a bit of motivation to get, and it's a nice distraction to have. Some are short term, some are long term. The funny thing was, one of them was 300, so I've still got that to tick off!" © Getty Images

Crowe helped Taylor to find a happier medium between intensity and relaxation, contemplation and socialising. As time went on, he found himself reintegrated with the team, and happy to contribute wherever needed - the night before the WACA Test, he could be glimpsed dining happily with a cadre of team-mates. The loss of face associated with the captaincy change was considerable, but three years on, Taylor can now see his own strengths, and likewise where his leadership had the occasional weakness.

"First and foremost whether you're a captain, a rookie, a batter or a bowler, you've got to do your job well," Taylor said. "When I was captain I found it was easier to talk to the group when you're scoring runs. It's quite tough when you're not scoring runs to put on a front and put that facade up that you've still got everything under control.

"Some people do it well, they can not score runs and still say the big words, all the big speeches, but I was never that person. My job is to score runs and help the youngsters through that. The longer it's been, the guys have got more experience and my role is probably even more so just scoring runs now.

"I've played in New Zealand teams where I've been the senior batter and felt a lot of responsibility. Over the last 24 to 36 months it's been nice to have a few other players step up. It's been exciting not only as a player, but also as a New Zealand cricket fan to see the team grow and the depth that's been created."

The standout in this growth is Kane Williamson, a batsman so serene at the crease that Taylor is happy to admit his 31-year-old nerves are calmed simply by watching his younger team-mate at the other end. "I don't have to talk him through his innings as much as I used to three or four years ago," Taylor said. "Even more so when I'm under pressure, he's the one talking me through different situations in the game as well.

"It's not necessarily just Kane but every young batsman, you're most vulnerable in your first 15-20 balls. Right until the last 12-18 months, Kane would come out to bat and would still be very quiet, very inward. I've always been a nervous starter, and Kane's there every two or three balls saying 'hang in there, it's going to be easier' and that's nice to hear. That's the art of batting, not necessarily you against 11, it's two against 11 and you've got to help each other out.

"It's been a nice thing for Kane, he is a very quiet, humble person, but in a batting sense nowadays you're almost disappointed when he only gets a 50. It's great to watch, it's not often we've got a world-class batter in our team, and he's definitely up there, one of the best if not the best at the moment. He's the rock and as the boys are starting to call him, 'the Vault'. Hopefully that sticks, I might just call him the Vault, I'm not going to call him Kane anymore..."

These days, Taylor still finds the occasional roadblock to success on the field, but apart from the eye and testicle issues, they are happily of the more commonplace kind for a young father on the international carousel. "I can remember at Lord's I was surprised I could score any runs when I batted in the first innings," he recalled.

"I'd had about two hours' sleep. My son had been up all night with teething and had mouth ulcers. So those are the little things that people probably don't know about touring and they just expect you to go out there. That's fair enough, but at the same time you do have to have a life and sometimes having your family your on tour is good, but it can be a bit of a distraction as well."

Having negotiated a uniquely difficult period of time in the game, Taylor is now well and truly out the other side. The Perth innings may well be seen as the end of the turbulence, and the start of a new and fruitful phase. There are plenty more goals to be achieved, not least the day when he can add another 10 runs to his WACA Ground tally.

"One of the biggest things when I first met with Martin was setting some goals," Taylor said. "Goals aren't the be all and end all, but they're a point you can have a bit of motivation to get, and it's a nice distraction to have. Some are short term, some are long term. The funny thing was, one of them was 300, so I've still got that to tick off!"

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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