October 4, 2012

New Zealand cricket

Taylor made for Tests

Keith King
Ross Taylor drives through the off side, West Indies v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Jamaica, 1st day, August 2, 2012
Ross Taylor's best Test innings are characterised by shots all around the wicket  © DigicelCricket.com/Brooks LaTouche Photography
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Ross Taylor and Glenn Turner seem like opposite sides of the coin, when it comes to comparing New Zealand batsmen. Just compare their ESPNcricinfo profiles. Taylor is described as "an aggressive top-order batsman... (who) scores heavily from the pull and from slog-sweeping the spinners and his free-flowing game has made him a hit with crowds." By comparison, Turner is described "as the most professional cricketer ever produced by New Zealand, ...an immaculately straight-playing opener, who defended with a solidity of technique few contemporaries matched. His most characteristic shots were the off-drive and a beautifully-timed drive to midwicket with the face of the bat turned on impact".

For two players who seem so dissimilar, their Test stats are almost identical.

Player Tests Innings Runs Avg 100s 50s
Ross Taylor 41 75 3025 42.60 7 16
Glen Turner 41 73 2991 44.64 7 14

By comparing only Taylor and Turner's Test careers (and ignoring Turner's hundred first-class hundreds and the fact that he spent possibly the most productive part of his career not playing international cricket), Taylor, at least statistically, is almost the equal of a man, who is rightly regarded as one of New Zealand's greatest batsman. Turner is held in high esteem, illustrated by the fact that he received a unanimous verdict (along with Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee) when New Zealand's best Test XI was selected on ESPNcricinfo a couple of years ago.

Given his similar Test record, I'd be surprised if Taylor would be viewed as a potential candidate for such a team yet. There seems to be a feeling that Taylor doesn't value his wicket enough, that his aggression is out of place in the longer form of the game. But often his best Test innings have been characterised by a willingness to play shots and by that, I don't just mean playing a slog-sweep to every second ball.

If you want evidence for this, just look back at that 113 he got recently in the second Test against India. He played aggressively, put the bad balls away but did it by playing shots all around the ground and not just exclusively through the leg-side as sometimes is his modus operandi. Eleven boundaries and a six were hit between backward point to straight, only five fours and a six went leg-side.

For someone who is often criticised for poor judgment and shot selection, Taylor is statistically one of the best Test batsmen produced by New Zealand. Only two New Zealand players, Martin Crowe and Stephen Fleming, who played more than 50 Tests managed to maintain an average of more than 40 and Taylor will surely soon join them. I'm going to gloss over the fact that he has the fourth-best average of New Zealanders in one-day internationals (behind that man Turner, Crowe and Roger Twose).

There is reason to believe that Taylor's best years are still ahead of him, especially as he seems to have responded well to the captaincy. I'm not naïve enough to suggest that Taylor is necessarily in Turner's class (at least not yet). We all know the arguments that Test batting is much easier now than it used to be, with bigger bats, smaller fields, mellow pitches and mediocre bowlers.

The rise of T20, often maligned, has also had an impact on batting and I don't necessarily mean that it has had a negative one. Batsmen are now aware of scoring areas and options that wouldn't have been contemplated even a decade ago. I'm also aware of the folly in using only stats as a measure of a player's worth. One of cricket's greatest strengths and also one of its major weaknesses is that, like baseball, there are statistics that can be used to dissect a player's performance, statistics that can be used by even the most casual of followers to discuss the merits of players. Other sports are different, more subjective. It's hard to quantify who is a better forward in football or who is a better winger in rugby, who is better, Federer or Nadal? But we know that a player with a batting average of 50 is probably better than a player who averages 40.

Someone said that statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death, which is a flash way of saying that statistics tell us that Steve Waugh was probably a better player than Mark Waugh but they don't tell us about Mark Waugh's cover drive. Statistics tell us that Glenn McGrath has the better average but he didn't excite like Waqar Younis in his pomp. So I don't want to read too much into Taylor's stats but they do suggest that he may well finish his career as one of New Zealand's best batsmen.

However paradoxical it may seem given Taylor's reputation, he is a much more valuable and important Test player than a T20 player for New Zealand at the moment. At the international level, he has struggled to impose himself in T20s as an average of 25 and a strike rate of 121 will attest. These figures are much lower than his non-international T20 appearances, proving why he is a valued commodity in domestic cricket, both in New Zealand and in other competitions, notably the IPL and how much he has disappointed in the international T20 game.

I'm at a loss to explain why he seems to struggle in the international T20 arena. Maybe his one-dimensional approach (in T20s, he is prone to over-use the slog-sweep) gets found out at international level by world-class bowlers but works at lower levels. Of course, a player of Taylor's class could make a 40-ball hundred tomorrow and make these words look foolish and obsolete. At the moment though, he is overshadowed in the New Zealand line-up by McCullum and by Guptill (who was recently ranked as the world's best T20 batsman) and even arguably by James Franklin, who has made himself into quite an adept T20 batsmen. The IPL may love his slog-sweep but for me, I'd much rather see Roscoe's cover drive.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by mike on (January 28, 2013, 4:43 GMT)

I don't wish to belittle Taylor but comparing him to Turner as a Batsman is absurd.Taylor is a flat-track bully while Turner was a master Batsman.They may have similiar statistical records but that is where the comparison ends.....Turner scored runs in all conditions against fantastic bowlers.That is the only measure to judge the worth of a batsman.

Posted by Regan on (December 18, 2012, 5:23 GMT)

I agree with Mykuhl, I think that Taylor is underrated by the overly critical and largely ignorant NZ sports viewing public. The fact is he is by far New Zealand’s best current batsman and he is getting better. I don't doubt end up as one of NZ's all time best! The team is going to suffer without him in South Africa.

Posted by Regan on (December 18, 2012, 5:23 GMT)

I agree with Mykuhl, I think that Taylor is underrated by the overly critical and largely ignorant NZ sports viewing public. The fact is he is by far New Zealand’s best current batsman and he is getting better. I don't doubt end up as one of NZ's all time best! The team is going to suffer without him in South Africa.

Posted by Mykuhl on (October 17, 2012, 1:18 GMT)

There is another player who had scored a similar number of runs after 41 test matches: Martin Crowe.

Taylor is wildly under-rated, and the comments above back that up further. I'm not sure about the rest of his career, but in 2011 he got out twice as often playing off-side shots than playing leg-side shots. When he commented in an interview that he was trying to reduce the amount of drives he plays early in his innings he was attacked in the media, by people who automatically assume that a slog-sweep isn't a proper cricket shot for someone who has spent the time practicing and perfecting it.

Posted by Nick Macdonald on (October 8, 2012, 15:03 GMT)

I wish Taylor would read this article and stop employing the slog-sweet so often. His off-drive and cut shots are some of the best in World Cricket. His 80-ball hundred against Australia in tests was primarily hitting in the off-side. I have never understood why he doesn't just play the ball on it's merits as he did in that game as opposed to dragging across the line so often.

Posted by Cricketnut on (October 8, 2012, 14:28 GMT)

The irony is it's a Glenn Turner that NZ cricket desperately needs right now. An opener with techniquee against the new ball..not yet another middle order batsmen trying (guptill/flynn etc)...as for the article...turner was a better batsmen full stop. however..Taylor has the talent to match Turner if he keeps his head screwed on..and doesn't play stupid shots lik that 2nd test vs windie recently....remeber TAylors stats are inflated by all the sub-continent pitches and bangla/zimbabwe. Turner had to score against..mostly ENG/AUS/PAK/WI in the 70's 80's...some fearsomeattacks he had to deal with! Turner I rate number 3 behind Crowe and Flem...Flem also would have had a better career had he had a better opener ahead of him most of the time...unfortunately it was the 2005 seris vs AUS scrwed his average.

Posted by omar on (October 7, 2012, 4:36 GMT)

Great article, I agree Taylor's years are ahead of him and Turner should work with him without any friction.

Posted by TK on (October 6, 2012, 14:22 GMT)

If you analyze Taylor's records, you will find that he always enjoys playing in Australian conditions and particularly against the Aussies. Records clearly show that he is a player of high quality but he just needs to step up to the next level. Still i will take an ODI avg of just under 40 and a test avg of over 40 anyday.

Posted by Nirav Kanodra on (October 6, 2012, 8:24 GMT)

You cant compare Glenn Turner's average from 70s and 80s - when runs were tough to score, and Ross Taylor in 2000s. There definitely has been run inflation in all forms of cricket - due to better bats, smaller outfields, and flatter wickets.

Posted by Dave on (October 5, 2012, 18:57 GMT)

Agree with Gareth, like a lot of NZ players, Taylor hasn't reached his potential and probably never will. Great one minute, average for the next 5 games.

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