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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.
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.
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