New Zealand news June 22, 2011

Taylor makes the future look sound

Andrew Alderson
While statistics provide evidence that Ross Taylor succeeds when he leads, his principles could offer plenty to the wider game in New Zealand

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor stands to fulfil that mantra stepping into the role of New Zealand cricket captain.

The 27-year-old may not have the enjoyed the privileged upbringing of Churchill, but has taken a natural ability to brandish a bat as a five-year-old in the North Island town of Masterton and developed it into a career. Look no further than his signing of a $1 million contract with the Rajasthan Royals in the last Indian Premier League.

Taylor is just the second New Zealander of Samoan heritage to play international cricket after pace bowler Murphy Su'a. He has built on that pioneering influence, playing 30 Tests, 107 ODIs and 37 Twenty20 internationals since his debut in 2006. His cavalier approach often inspires the masses and wins games single-handedly.

As the incumbent vice-captain Taylor fought off a stern challenge from former vice-captain Brendon McCullum, inheriting the leadership role from Daniel Vettori.

Taylor - who received the captaincy ahead of his wedding to fiancée Victoria on Saturday - made a strong case at the World Cup with the bat and as an in-fielder. He scored 250 runs and averaged 50.00 against the Test-playing nations, compared to McCullum's 10.60. In McCullum's defence, he battled a knee injury and could not be rested without a specialist back-up wicketkeeper in the squad. He still made a century against Canada, a half-century against Zimbabwe and remained unbeaten against Kenya.

Taylor might be more of a quiet cajoler than a damn-the-torpedoes ranter, but he can point to evidence that he succeeds when he leads. His ODI average of 44.20 in ten completed matches as captain compares favourably to his average of 35.79 when he is not. He has won four and lost six in charge. At the World Cup his 131 not out against Pakistan - including 55 runs off his last 13 balls - was a match-winner, reinvigorating New Zealand's tournament hopes.

Taylor was selected by a panel comprising coach John Wright, interim national selection manager Mark Greatbatch and cricket director John Buchanan. Greatbatch has been a mentor of Taylor's for some time. Taylor captained Greatbatch's national under-19 side and was coached by him at Central Districts. Wright had been non-committal on his preference, but wanted a candidate to be a "strong competitor" over other qualities. At the end of the World Cup he noted: "If you're not performing, people stop listening. Leadership is performance."

Taylor's performance will now be judged on a busy summer programme: tours to Zimbabwe and Australia, visits by Zimbabwe and South Africa and a tour to the West Indies next April-May. While New Zealand have proven themselves in limited-overs cricket with a semi-final finish at the World Cup, performances in the Test arena have lagged. Since the 2007 World Cup, New Zealand has played 32 Tests and won just six, including four against Bangladesh and one each against England and Pakistan. They get at least 11 chances to change that perception over the next year. Taylor can lead the way by righting an often slated middle order.

The new captain can also offer plenty to the wider New Zealand game by managing his power wisely. Three factors need public awareness: his generosity, his vices and his warmth.

When Samoa played Vanuatu in Apia a few years ago a number of the white trousers finished at low calf or needed a couple of folds to avoid slipping over sneakers. That was an example of Taylor's commitment to his heritage - donating a couple of bags of used Black Caps' clothing for further use.

Taylor can also capitalise on vices that lend him a common touch. Anecdotes suggest his penchant for runs is correlated to how much KFC anyone is prepared to bet him

Word has it home appliances would also mysteriously appear on the doorstep of the family home in Masterton. Apparently when he moved in with his fiancée in Hamilton last year, Taylor's house in Palmerston North was not sold. It was instead used by his sister.

Taylor can also capitalise on vices that lend him a common touch. Anecdotes suggest his penchant for runs is correlated to how much KFC anyone is prepared to bet him. It started when a Central Districts team physiotherapist is alleged to have offered him a bucket if he scored a century. That resulted in a delivery of Colonel Sanders' finest to the dressing room.

There is also warmth behind Taylor's sometimes awkward media persona, but it needs coaxing into the public domain.

Take Tuesday's announcement. At one point nerves seem to overcome the new captain and he lost his train of thought responding to a question. It might have been the thought of those impending nuptials, but it is something he can rectify. While easier said than done - and not everyone can be a Churchillian-type orator - relaxing would help. Yet it matters little what Taylor says to the media pack as long as he and his team perform and his comrades respect him. Captaining the New Zealand is not about popularity.

Taylor's natural honesty can be refreshing - while he prepared some responses on Tuesday, like his initial statement to the waiting media pack, he spoke off the cuff elsewhere. One example was describing Buchanan's all-important phone call: "I didn't hear it," Taylor said. "I was trying to pick wedding songs and had the volume up."

He also had those priorities in place when he nipped away at the end of the conference rather than facing a barrage of similar one-on-one interview questions: "I gotta go, I've got a wedding to sort." With priorities like that, Taylor might well be the sound future New Zealand cricket is looking for.

Andrew Alderson is a cricket writer for New Zealand's Herald on Sunday