Taylor steps down with trademark good timing (3 February 1999)

3 February 1999

Taylor steps down with trademark good timing

By Mark Nicholas

AMID a blaze of flashbulbs in Sydney's swanky Sheraton Park Hotel yesterday morning Mark Taylor, the Australian cricket captain, announced his retirement from the international game. This was not a surprise - it had been predicted in the press for 10 days - and it is another intelligent and well-timed move by one of cricket's most exceptional people.

Still only 34, Taylor said that since the Adelaide Test he has lost the edge to compete. "I didn't feel I would be able to give everything in the West Indies as a batsman and I didn't want to be there as a captain only," was his typically frank and self-effacing assessment of the part he might play in Australia's next assignment, which begins later this month. He added that he had a strong desire to spend more time with his wife and family.

The Australian Cricket Board now have to make the tricky decision about who should replace him - Steve and Mark Waugh and Shane Warne are the candidates - and they are not relishing having to do so. It is no secret that Denis Rogers, the board's chairman, was keen for Taylor to stay in the job and in thanking him "for his immense contribution to Australian cricket" he went on to say that "no one will really know what we owe Mark until he has gone".

Less than two weeks ago Taylor was named "Australian of the Year". Before Christmas he received the Sir Donald Bradman Medal of Honour for his contribution to Australian sport and soon afterwards was featured in an hour-long special of This Is Your Life. He has even been the subject of a short piece in the New York Times.

All of this has come since the 334 not out he made in Pakistan last October, the innings which equalled Sir Donald's highest Australian Test score, which has bestowed film-star status upon him. As he put it himself yesterday: "That knock took me to Shane Warne's levels of publicity." He has sensibly and modestly chosen the perfect time to go, while he is on top and still much loved.

The bare statistics of his remarkable career make for great reading. Taylor played in 104 Tests, making 7,535 runs, with 19 hundreds and an average of 43.5. The total is the second-highest number of runs made by an Australian. He has held 157 catches, the most by any Test cricketer. He captained his country in 50 matches and won 26 of them. Out of the 13 series in which he was in charge he won 11, failing only his first, in Pakistan in 1994, and in India early last year, when Sachin Tendulkar confounded all the Australian bowlers and their captain too.

The old school will tell you that Bradman's 1948 invincibles were the greatest of all Australian teams. Ian Chappell may make a case for the men of 1974-76. Taylor's teams have not been far behind.

Mark Taylor was raised playing cricket in the country at Wagga Wagga, which is about six hours' drive to the west of Sydney. He is the seventh country boy to be given Australia's most prestigious sporting position since the Second World War: Bradman, Bill Brown, Lindsay Hassett, Arthur Morris, Ian Craig and Brian Booth are the others. It is some list and reflects the earthy, forthright and uncomplicated nature of Aussies from the bush.

Taylor has not changed a jot from those days - "I guess I am the sort of bloke who will have a beer with anybody who will buy me one" - remaining a brick and an extremely good player. Australians have identified with one of their own; a man who carries a pound or two in weight, forward and aft, a gum chewer with a gait as unathletic as the guy next door. He has not been bothered by image, rather he has been bothered with substance. His job has been to bat well, catch well and run a good team and because he has done all three he has all but got the keys to the kingdom.

For a time through 1996 and halfway into 1997, Taylor could not make a run. Australia called for his head but the selectors broke with tradition and persevered with a captain who was not worth his place in the team.

When he was caught at slip in the first Test of the 1997 Ashes tour he figured it was all over - "my lowest point certainly, I was on the brink of standing down." Never once, even when the depression was deepest, did Taylor avert his gaze from the world or let his chin drop. Those around him shuffled, staring uneasily at the floor or glancing over his shoulder but he looked at them, straight in the eye.

When he emerged from his slump with the bravest imaginable hundred in the second innings of that Edgbaston Test, the game rejoiced because it knew, from Sydney via Sialkot to Southampton, that this was a good man, a man who treated triumph and adversity in an equally level-headed and honest way.

He will now take his honesty with him into the Channel 9 commentary box and possibly to a role within the ACB as well. He says that he would like to stay in and around the game and since there has been talk of forming an international players' association to govern and guide cricketers from within, he and his philosophies would appear to be ideal to front it.

His ideas were led by the need for his teams to play to win, but just as importantly to entertain. "When I took over as captain I said to the guys that five days was a long time and that we should always play for a result. I hope we have influenced other teams' thinking by doing this, as I believe the players have a responsibility to the public and that the future of the game is in the captains' hands."

The main strength of his own influence came, he thought, "from remaining calm at all times and from communicating freely with the players." He said that he had been lucky to take over a good team from Allan Border. "There was some reasonable tackle in the shed," he said with a smile before adding more seriously: "A good captain can make a bad side into an average side and a good side into a better one, he can't do much more."

Perhaps his most important contribution has been to demonstrate that sportsmanship and good manners can sit alongside success. He has shown dignity, however intense the competition, and applied straightforward common sense to the ego-based, money-driven world of modern sport. None of this means he has been a soft touch, it simply means that he understood he was playing a game, nothing more.

In his valedictory speech yesterday he thanked everyone in sight: family, friends, team-mates and supporters. He said how lucky he had been to represent and captain his country, and especially lucky to start and finish his Test career on his home ground in Sydney. Then he said: "Cricket has given me more than I've given it," which is not absolutely right, they are about even.

A few years ago his young son was asked by a new friend what his dad did for a living. "Not much," he replied, "just plays cricket." I'll bet Dad approves of that.

Mark Anthony Taylor's Record

TEST MATCH BATTING RECORD

M  I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct
v England   (H) 15 30 1  917 113 31.62  1  8 24
(A) 18 31 1 1588 219 52.93  5  7 22
--------------------------------------------
33 61 2 2505 219 42.45  6 15 46

M I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct v India (H) 5 10 1 422 100 46.88 1 3 7 (A) 4 8 1 253 102* 36.14 1 0 3 ------------------------------------------- 9 18 2 675 102* 42.18 2 3 10

M I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct v New Zealnd (H)7 10 2 509 142* 63.62 2 3 16 (A) 4 6 0 157 82 26.16 0 2 9 --------------------------------------------- 11 16 2 666 142* 47.57 2 5 25

M I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct v Pakistan (H) 6 10 1 728 123 80.88 3 5 13 (A) 6 10 2 620 334* 77.50 1 3 7 --------------------------------------------- 12 20 3 1348 334* 79.29 4 8 20

M I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct v S Africa (H) 6 10 1 569 170 63.22 2 2 12 (A) 5 9 0 177 70 19.66 0 1 5 -------------------------------------------- 11 19 1 746 170 41.44 2 3 17

M I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct v Sri Lanka (H) 5 9 1 463 164 57.87 2 1 10 (A) 3 6 0 148 43 24.66 0 0 1 -------------------------------------------- 8 15 1 611 164 43.64 2 1 11

M I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct v W Indies (H) 11 21 1 390 46 19.50 0 0 15 (A) 9 16 1 594 144 39.60 1 5 13 --------------------------------------------- 20 37 2 984 144 28.11 1 5 28

M I NO RUNS HS AVGE 100 50 ct TOTAL (H) 55 100 8 3998 170 43.45 11 22 97 (A) 49 86 5 3537 334* 43.66 8 18 60 --------------------------------------------- 104 186 13 7535 334* 43.55 19 40 157 As Player 54 97 6 4284 219 47.07 12 24 73 As Captain 50 89 7 3251 334* 39.64 7 16 84

Born: 27-10-64 at Leeton, New South Wales.

Debut: NSW, 1985.

Test Debut: 26-01-89 v West Indies (Sydney).

Made a century in his first Test against England, at Headingley. Scored 839 runs for series average of 83.90.

Scored centuries in his first Test matches v Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan. Hit 94 v India.

Carried bat in the first innings of third Test against South Africa at Adelaide in 1998, scoring 169* of Australia's 350.

Scored 334* against Pakistan in Peshwar in Oct 1998, equalling Don Bradman's Australia Test record for highest individual innings.

Took over the captaincy of Australia from Allan Border in 1994. Record: 26 wins, 11 draws, 13 defeats. Led Australia in 13 series, losing only three.

Holds various partnership records: first wicket against England, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, third against South Africa and fourth against Sri Lanka.

He is the second highest run scorer for Australia behind Border (11,174) and has taken more catches than any other Australian.

He has played in 113 one-day internationals, scoring 3,514 runs (average 32.24).

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

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