<
>

'The captaincy came a couple of years before I was ready'

play
WATCH - Taylor's masterful 87-ball century (1:58)

New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor hammered his 13th ODI hundred in the second ODI against England, at The Oval (1:58)

"I enjoyed captaincy, it brought the best out of my game, but it's an unrewarding job," Ross Taylor says. "Heath Mills, from the New Zealand Players Association, always said it was unrewarding. He was right."

Taylor stops to gather his thoughts when I ask if leading New Zealand was a childhood dream. The few seconds of silence say it all.

He has never been one to hang about. His 81-ball century against Australia in 2010 was New Zealand's fastest ever in Tests. Just last year, he broke a 111-year record by scoring 290 against the Australians, the highest score by an overseas batsman in Tests in Australia. The innings was full of positivity and aggression, never shying away from a battle.

Talking about the captaincy, by contrast, Taylor is careful, tentative and hesitant. He is everything he is not on the cricket field - slow to pick his words on what is a difficult subject, but it's easy to see why.

In June 2011, he was handed the captaincy in all forms. It should have been a fairy tale, given his good batting form at the time, but 18 months later it was over. Coach Mike Hesson, following disappointing results in the limited-overs formats, wanted Taylor to relinquish the one-day captaincy. Ahead of a Test series against Sri Lanka, Hesson tried to tell Taylor exactly that.

He informed Taylor he would recommend leadership changes to the board after the tour. He meant in white-ball cricket, but he failed to convey that to Taylor. It ended in disaster. Taylor led New Zealand to their first away Test victory over Sri Lanka in over a dozen years, making 142 and 74 in the process.

"I guess yes and no, on it [captaincy] being a childhood dream," he says. "I always thought I could do it but it came a couple of years before I was ready. I was just getting into a bit of form and then had the added responsibility of being captain.

"Until you do the job, you don't realise how much there is involved in it. Your brain is ticking the whole time. The only time you aren't thinking cricket is when you aren't playing. And with the amount of cricket being played now, that's not very often."

Taylor had had enough. He took a break from the game while New Zealand Cricket - then hit by a barrage of criticism from ex-players - apologised. Weeks later, he returned, but trust needed rebuilding and the relationship with Hesson needed repairing. Taylor admits that the turmoil affected him. Anyone would have been.

One particular Kevin Pietersen remark really struck a chord. "It has made me who I am today," Taylor says. "I don't think I'd be human if it didn't affect me in some sort of way.

"I watched KP do a documentary on ITV one time. They asked him if he regretted taking the captaincy, and he said you can never turn down the job. He's right."

In truth, the signals were there from the start. Taylor beat Brendon McCullum to the job after being interviewed by a three-man panel consisting of the coach then, John Wright, the director of cricket, John Buchanan, and the acting national selection manager Mark Greatbatch. It was like going back to school.

"I don't know many people who would have to interview to become the national team captain, so that was a strange thing to deal with. It was bizarre, very bizarre," Taylor recalls.

"It was an honour and a privilege to get the job but I really don't know how to describe it. I guess when I write my book I'll go into depth a bit more, but it was different. At least when I finish my cricket career I can say I've had one job interview!"

McCullum replaced Taylor in December 2012. The move worked. He revolutionised New Zealand cricket and left. Hesson was there every step of the way - and so was Taylor. Against the odds, both remain an integral part of the new era, still working together.

Taylor's 290 against Australia came just three Tests ago. He has hit three one-day international centuries in his last nine innings. He may be 32 but Taylor is seeing the ball as well as ever, and has rarely played better.

He knows it won't go on forever and laughs at the suggestion of playing into his forties: "Absolutely not! If I get to 37 or 38, I'll be happy. Forty-two or 44? No way." But for now he is relishing playing a key part in what could be one of the greatest New Zealand teams ever, under Kane Williamson.

"It has the potential to be the best New Zealand side." he says. "We've got quite a lot of young talent coming through and there are a couple of big Test series in the next couple of years. We're sixth in the Test rankings, so there's still a long way to go, but it's exciting. It's nice to be a part of it.

"Kane and Brendon are totally different people. Being vice-captain, like Kane was, is hard, as vice-captaincy is one of the toughest jobs in cricket. Now he's captain full time, he is not coming in and treading on any toes. I'm sure he will do very well as captain, and in the future Kane will be one of the best ever batsmen. Scoring runs, as he's doing, and having him as captain bodes well for the future of New Zealand."

When New Zealand travel to South Africa for a Test series in August, Taylor - the country's most experienced batsman - will be key. It is a testament to his temperament and professionalism that he's still going strong, often against the odds.

Until then he is enjoying life on the south coast of England with Sussex. There are no captaincy worries, no off-field politics, no childhood dreams turning into nightmares.

"Sussex is great, the club has been great and it's a lovely part of the world - except my two children have worked out that every time they go to the beach they get an ice cream!" he says.

"It's nice to have my family here, though. I bought my son a Sussex cricket ball the other day and he's got good hands for a two-year-old. If it means he gets an IPL deal in 20 years' time I wouldn't begrudge that."