Taylor finally appreciated in Australia (30 November 1998)

30 November 1998

Taylor finally appreciated in Australia

By Mark Nicholas

OF all the modern cricketers to be truly successful, few are as unglamorous as Mark Taylor. Last week Taylor was featured on an hour-long special of the Australian This Is Your Life. It was a pleasant if slightly dull show. It had a strong family link, the uncomplicated deliberations of a couple of close mates and the "surprise" appearance of young Mark's schoolteacher, who all but stole the spotlight. That she could do so, for she was an ordinary enough woman herself, was a measure of how little else in the programme was remotely glossy.

Also last week, Taylor was awarded the inaugural Sir Donald Bradman medal of honour for his contribution to Australian sport. When this was mentioned around the ground yesterday some eminent Australians hadn't a clue. So there we have it, the captain of Australia is an unlikely hero.

Yet it is Taylor who is most revered in Australia at present. He embodies all that is good about sport: showing dignity however intense the competition, and honesty and common sense in a frantic, ego-orientated, money-driven sporting world. He famously refused to bat on past Bradman's 334, of course, which earned him buckets of brownie points; his team went on to win in Pakistan, which hardly needs qualifying as an essential Aussie achievement, and now he's dusting up the Poms.

What is never forgotten about Taylor, whatever his simplicity of style or slumps in form, is that he is an outstanding leader. He is a clever tactician, a supreme man-manager and cricket's craftiest fox with the press. Thus, after Brisbane: "Aw, there's nothing I can do about the weather. I can do something about things on the field but not the weather, that's out of my control. We've enjoyed the match and got plenty from it. We're looking forward to Perth already." And he sort of meant it, not a hint of "We had 'em". That's Taylor. Doesn't give much away that matters because his charm does the job.

He is lovingly known as "Tubs" by his team and now by most of Australia. Tubs has already had a magnificent match, in what is a magnificent match anyway, here in Perth. He has held four catches at slip and made 61 runs when no one else from either side has yet passed 50. Not long ago the furious critics in the upper echelons of the Australian media said that he couldn't bat, which was codswallop. Even after his period of misery - 21 innings without a fifty - he averages more than 45 in Tests and is close to becoming the second-highest Australian run-scorer of them all.

To say he can't bat is to miss the value of judgment and perseverance in a man, and not to consider application as a virtue. Taylor is the one Australian who has confounded that old unwritten rule: We pick our XI and then the captain. Oh no you didn't, not from January 1996 to May 1997, not with Taylor.

His value was exaggerated on Saturday when, on a sunny morning and presented with an apparently perfect pitch he won the toss and . . . chose to bowl. "Crikey mate, Tubs has lost his marbles," they mumbled in the outer. Far from it.

Taylor correctly figured that the pitch was tacky on the surface, and that it did not have its usual concrete look or feel. He knew there would be high bounce and plenty of carry to the wicketkeeper and that he had Glenn McGrath, the most dangerous bowler in the match, in his team.

He suspected that England were insecure about playing at the WACA and that their confidence had been knocked around a bit in Brisbane. He thought the pitch would improve for batting as it dried out and he doubted it would crack as it often does. In fact, he fancied having four out by lunch.

As it happened he had six. Then he had the rest soon after. All out for 112, that's a good "put-in" if ever there was one and it dissolved the old theory saying nine times out of 10 you bat first and the tenth time you think about bowling and then you bat.

Taylor is no ordinary cricketer and no ordinary captain, but still manages to retain his appeal as an ordinary bloke. At last Australia appreciates him as it ought to.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)