Mark Taylor talks to Peter Roebuck: We are at our peak (15 November 1998)

15 November 1998

Mark Taylor talks to Peter Roebuck: We are at our peak

Peter Roebuck

PETER ROEBUCK: England are coming into this Ashes series with an important victory over South Africa under their belt. Do you think this is their best chance against you?

MARK TAYLOR: I don't know about that! I'm delighted about how well we've been playing recently. I'm not trying to scare anyone but this is the best we've played for a long time. My only worry is that we played too well in Pakistan and might not play as well on our own pitches. But I think we've got a very, very good side. We're going to be hard to beat in Australia.

PR: So how highly do you rate England?

MT: They've come part of the way. They sound a lot more confident. They're saying all the right things about looking forward to the challenge and wanting to win. Last time they came they said: "If we can draw 1-1 we'll be pleased." In a five-match series they were going for one win! I thought: "Well, we're going for three wins. We'll give you the one." They're a lot more positive this time and that'll help. The South African series has lifted them.

Alec [Stewart] has one series and one win so he'll be confident.

PR: Nonetheless England have been going badly for years. Is it a matter of leadership or players or the domestic scene?

MT: All of the above. It helps if a domestic competition is right. In Australia we're lucky to have six teams. All the players are trying to get into the Test side. That doesn't happen in England with 18 sides.

PR: Four years ago you went to Karachi as Australian captain. It was your first match. You scored a pair, dropped several catches and lost by a single wicket. How do you feel you've changed since then?

MT: Well, I didn't make a pair and we didn't lose this time! I went to Pakistan four years ago under a lot of internal pressure. It's an enormous job. You don't realise how big until you get it. I was working out how I was going to do it, what I was going to do each day. I went into the first Test and I wasn't even watching the ball. Making runs was the last thing on my mind. It wasn't until I got a pair that I thought I'd better start scoring a few. Now I've got a greater understanding of what's involved.

PR: Nonetheless you had a strong spirit from the beginning. Where did it come from?

MT: I'm an approachable person and that helps. I try not to put myself on a pedestal. I wanted players to be able to talk to me and I wanted to talk to them. The first thing I did was to go to each player and tell them what I was going to do as captain. I told them I'm always open. I might get dirty but it only lasts five minutes.

PR: This doesn't explain your durability. Does that come from your upbringing?

MT: I think it's my outlook on life. I'm optimistic. I've always been able to keep cricket as a game. It's given me great opportunities but in the end it's only a game.

PR: And where did that come from?

MT: My upbringing. I come from one of those lucky families, parents married for 36 years and still together. I've been brought up in a normal, healthy life. I've always played cricket because I love it. My parents gave me a competitive edge without ramming it down my throat.My father would say: "Go out there and enjoy the game - if you don't enjoy it, do something else."

PR: What about your bad patch? Were you getting negative?

MT: I started to think my time was coming to an end. I was thinking about how to finish off well. It was the wrong approach. Eventually I realised: "Hang on, I've played 85 Tests, had a great time and been pretty successful. And here I am worrying about how I am going to finish." It was ridiculous. After that I just went out and played the way I'd always played, loving the game. Not until I realised these things did I come out of my slump.

PR: What are the cornerstones of your batting?

MT: I've always been an opener. From the start I had the old opener's motto: get a good defence and go from there. I've always been able to work off the pads, hook and pull.

PR: You seem happy to work within your limitations.

MT: I've always known myself and my game. Some people know bits of it but I know it right through.

PR: Do you feel you are in the best form of your career?

MT: Not quite as good as 1989. But not bad.

PR: Regarding your 334 not out in Pakistan - do you think too much was made of your declaration? [Taylor declared overnight, 41 runs short of Brian Lara's Test record].

MT: I tried to break the Don's [Sir Donald Bradman] record. I wanted to go past the old so and so! But we finished level. It was incredibly big that night. I kept getting calls from India and places saying: "You must go for it." They look at things in a different way. I did get one fax from Australia also saying: "You must break the record. In time people will forget about the result of the series." He wanted me to hold the world record for Australia as a matter of national pride. And then at the bottom he wrote: "PS. I've never played a game of cricket in my life!"

PR: Did you lose form because you were trying to justify your place in the oneday team?

MT: Possibly. It's ironic because when I was made captain I thought I had a regular place in the team at last. I'd been playing for Australia for five years and had been in and out of the one-day side. Until 1996 I played pretty well. After that it just went wrong. Maybe I was trying to be more aggressive, which isn't my style. Perhaps it did creep into my Test cricket.

PR: You've been captaining Australia for four years. . .

MT: Four and a half years!

PR: It seems like 10. What do you feel has been your main contribution?

MT: Taking the side one step further. In the early Nineties we were a good team, hard to beat, never throwing away a session, but we lacked a bit of flair. Also we lacked the aura of a great team. The West Indies had it in the Eighties, and it sets you above everyone else. We outplayed them in '91 but we didn't put them away because we didn't think we could. I wanted to change that.

PR: How did you do it?

MT: By talking to the players, convincing them. In those days we weren't allowed to talk about the West Indians bowling bumpers. I couldn't work it out. They were going to bowl fast and short anyhow. Not talking about it showed we were worried. Now we just laugh. Last time we went to the Caribbean we said to the bowlers: "Go off your long runs, bowl bumpers, whatever you like." It was the first thing we did. Whenever a ball whistled past someone's nose we'd laugh.

PR: And Glenn McGrath bowled bumpers to Ambrose and Walsh.

MT: That was something we needed to do. The West Indies have a go. We just wanted to give it back. First.

PR: When you retire how would you like cricket to remember you?

MT: As a bloke who enjoyed his cricket and a fellow who tried to bring new things into Test cricket - about winning games. Five days is a long time to play without getting a result. Allan Border's last match was a shocker - he finished a great career facing Jonty Rhodes. It was a decider and it petered out.

PR: How have you gone about that?

MT: We try to score 300 runs in a day. Also our players have a fair bit of freedom. I enjoy myself and I wanted the players to enjoy themselves. I don't yell at a player for doing something wrong.

PR: And this will be your last Ashes series?

MT: (laughs). . .yep. . .

PR: I think we can say that. You'd like to win?

MT: Very much so. Myself, Heals [Ian Healy] and Tugga (Steve Waugh) have won five Ashes series in a row and that's a record. Heals and I have never played in a losing side - only Tugga has - and we'd like to keep that going.

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

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