Ross Taylor's groundhog day
There is not one shot that Ross Taylor cannot play. He bats in a crucial position where he needs to meld the roles of providing stability and, later, acceleration. New Zealand's captain-in-waiting knows big things are round the corner once Daniel Vettori steps down after the World Cup. Yet in the last four years, between the two World Cups, Taylor has lived the life that Billy Murray's Phil Connors woke up to every morning in Groundhog Day - he has been turning up for the job without being able to go beyond an unsatisfactory present. At a distance he seems stuck.
Strangely, nothing much seems to have changed for Taylor since his disastrous World Cup debut in the Caribbean. Then, he walked out to bat with a head full of doubts. Out of a tournament tally of 136 runs, 85 had been cracked against Kenya and the rest were all single-digit scores. From his ODI debut in 2006 till the end of 2009, he averaged more than 34 with three centuries and 11 fifties. Since then, in 28 matches, he has averaged nearly the same, but has scored eight fifties and no century. The most notable difference however, is that he has performed very poorly in away matches recently. Since the start of 2010, he averages little more than 31 with three fifties. Prior to 2010, he scored one century and nine fifties despite averaging only about 29.
One of only three top-order batsmen in New Zealand's line-up to have played more than 100 one-day internationals, the other two being Brendon McCullum and Scott Styris, Taylor does not evoke the confidence the likes of Martin Crowe and Stephen Fleming did with their batting in in the middle order. He lacks Crowe's application and Fleming's perseverance. Taylor might promise us that the big one is round the corner, but even he knows it is more hope than faith.
"It is disappointing. On slower wickets I have probably struggled to rotate to strike and am getting out," said Taylor, as an explanation of his troubles. "I am not sure why." He struggled to find a clear reason for his batting inconsistencies, but holds out hope that his game will develop beyond them. "Hopefully I can show over the next couple of years and improve the stats as we play more in the subcontinent."
Yet, Taylor should know better. He is New Zealand's best player of spin in the recent years: overall against spinners Taylor has made 1028 runs at an average of 46.72. It is a few notches better in the three countries hosting this World Cup where he averages 46.85 with 328 runs. It is hard to isolate his problems: is he is playing bad shots or is it just plain failure to execute the plans? Or is Taylor just thinking too much, which is affecting his confidence.
Mark Richardson, former New Zealand opener and keen thinker of the game, feels Taylor is frustrated but is definitely capable of more if he can start working on his past mistakes. "The one thing that concerns me is that his technique has not improved. He has still got the same issues. He is still playing shots that he should not be. He is still getting out in inappropriate ways. That is the biggest thing; he has not gone forward mentally with his game as much as he would've hoped."
The failure of New Zealand's top order in the recent past to cobble worthy partnerships together has been the root of New Zealand's batting woes and that is probably having an impact on Taylor. "He is probably affected by the team situation. If he was part of the team that was performing you would get the best of out him," Richardson says.
Even Taylor agrees to the fact that he is committing mistakes that he probably should not. "We are all talented. We are getting ourselves out and it is very frustrating." Surprisingly Taylor showed the grit and the power, characteristics missing in his one-day game, to finish or set up matches for Royal Challengers Bangalore during the IPL last year. Unlike Eoin Morgan, his Bangalore team-mate, who has utilised his Twenty20 batting skills to graduate and perform in the longer versions, Taylor has failed to take the positives from the Twenty20 format into other formats. "He is one player who has struggled to chop and change between the various skills and game-plans between the formats. He does not do it as consistently as a guy with his experience should," Richardson says.
It would be harsh to lay the entire blame for New Zealand's frequent batting failures at Taylor's doorstep. Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Jesse Ryder have equal responsibility and if they are able to raise the platform in the first 15 to 20 overs, it makes Taylor's job easier. He is one of the better players in the middle overs and even if takes about 15 overs to establish himself in the middle overs dealing with the slow bowlers, he can always accelerate later.
That way he and the team can get the best results. At the moment he arrives at a point when New Zealand are gasping even before the PowerPlay overs are exhausted. "The problem is he comes in too early when the wickets are falling around him. You need some stability around him and then he can just take his time to get in. He will never score slowly. He will never be tied down. If he gets his eye in you can get the best out of Ross Taylor," Richardson says.
Hopefully Taylor is listening. He is New Zealand's best batsman by a distance, but he lacks the willingness to play like one. He needs to change that soon. Otherwise he will never get out of Punxsutawney.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo