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Ross Taylor hit a breathtaking century on the second day at Old Trafford and left England firmly on the back foot
May 24, 2008
Taylor was one of five New Zealand players to spend time at the Indian Premier League, before joining up with his team-mates two weeks into the England tour. While he was in India he spent time chatting with Rahul Dravid and Shivnarine Chanderpaul about the skills needed to succeed in England. He clearly didn't listen too much, because it's highly unlikely that either of them would have suggested trying to belt the cover off the ball.
Both toured England last year with West Indies and India. While Chanderpaul enjoyed a prolific time, making 446 runs at 148.66 in three Tests, he never threatened to tear an attack apart in the manner Taylor did during his third fifty, which took 42 balls. Meanwhile, Dravid's final Test innings on India's tour was a tortuous 96-ball 12 at The Oval. Taylor's second Test century took only 34 more deliveries.
However, there has been a noticeable evolution in Taylor's batting during the few days between Lord's and Old Trafford. His strike-rate for the Bangalore Royal Challengers was 183.95 and he began this tour unable to rein in his attacking mindset at the beginning of an innings. The warm-up matches were characterised by flashy dismissals after a couple of attractive boundaries, then at Lord's in the first innings he tried to pull a good length ball from Stuart Broad, and only managed to top edge to second slip.
"I was very disappointed with the way I got out," he said in his Cricinfo diary. "I was a little nervous when I walked out to bat, but playing across the line as I did to a shorter ball from Stuart Broad was not part of my game plan. Test cricket has its own special tempo and I was too rushed. I'll learn from that, as I do each time I bat in Test cricket." And learn he certainly has.
"I played straighter, that's the game plan I took out there," he said after Daniel Vettori's two late strikes left New Zealand in control. "I know if they bowl in other areas that, if I have a base of playing straight, my natural instincts will take over. A lot of people probably thought I was nervous at Lord's, but no more so than playing at another other ground. I just felt a little bit out of sorts, but I've work hard over the last few days and it made me feel a lot more relaxed."
Taylor is a naturally attacking batsman and there will always be an element of risk to his play. It is how he manages those risks that will determine how successful he becomes. The fact that he appears to be a quick learner will help his cause no end, but it is also a good sign that, even with a couple of failures behind him, he had the confidence to continue is own game.
England could easily have run all over New Zealand on the opening day, but Taylor's counter-attack redressed the balance almost before the home side could think they'd gained control. On the second morning the challenge was slightly different, consolidate and try to carry the game away from them. The loss of two team-mates to run outs didn't help, but by the time he was joined by the bowlers he was seeing the ball so well.
There was a hint of Nathan Astle and a sprinkle of Chris Cairns - not bad role models for an aggressive middle-order batsman - in the way he carved up England's bowlers in the later stages on his innings. It was one-day cricket - "The IPL helped me with those last 20 to 30 runs," Taylor said - and England needed to respond with some one-day style bowling. However, it's difficult to remember a single yorker that was attempted and Taylor was quite happy to swat length into the stands.
Andrew Strauss, who made a 60 that would have suited the grafting description, preferred to praise Taylor rather than suggest it was England's shortcomings that played a part. "Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition and when someone doesn't allow bowlers to settle," he said. "As a bowler you feel like you have a chance against people like that, but if they get in and get on top it's hard to stem the flow of runs. I thought he played exceptionally well and you have to take your hat off to him."
Taylor has only played Tests against two nations; South Africa and England. He was found out by the bouncy pitches in Johannesburg and Centurion Park, but here the short ball was easily dispatched. He has formed a liking to English bowlers over the last few months. The series in New Zealand brought 310 runs at 51.66, including his maiden Test century at Hamilton. That was a rather more prosaic innings, taking 185 balls to today's 130, but Taylor said the memories of that first hundred helped today after he got stalled in the 90s.
"I think I probably batted better in this game and also the game situation it makes it a little bit better as well. I think most batsmen, unless you have 20-30 hundreds, will be nervous but I think I'd have been a lot more nervous if I hadn't already got one."
The list of top-order batsman New Zealand have lost in recent times shows the talent that has disappeared; Astle, Craig McMillan, Stephen Fleming and Scott Styris to name four. It hasn't proved easy trying to find suitable replacements, but in Taylor they have someone with a long career in front of them and he is certainly more then the grafter.
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