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Why Ross Taylor needs to step up

Ross Taylor had two superb years in 2012 and 2013, but over the next two years his numbers dipped again ESPNcricinfo Ltd

In six Test innings in 2016, Ross Taylor averages 183.50. He has scored 367 runs of which 364 came in three unbeaten innings in Zimbabwe - 173*, 124*, 67*. In the three other innings this year, in South Africa, he has scored 2*, 1, and 0. In a sense, this year has been a microcosm of Taylor's entire Test career - he has had streaks of prolific run-making, but they have been offset by inexplicable periods of inconsistency, which is why he has never made the leap to the next level as a Test batsman.

Now 32, Taylor is in his ninth year in Test cricket, and at an age when batsmen usually attain their peak. The prolific and precocious Kane Williamson has moved ahead of him in the pecking order among New Zealand batsmen, but Taylor remains a hugely important cog in the New Zealand batting wheel. He averages more than 55 in the last four-and-a-half years, and has the second-highest score by a New Zealand batsman during this period - his 290 in Perth is next only to Brendon McCullum's 302 against India in Wellington.

However, for all his run-making and high average, Taylor doesn't figure in discussions around the best batsman in the game currently. That's because of his inconsistency, and the lack of a sustained run of excellence against top opposition. That was on display again in Centurion against South Africa when, coming off a superb series in Zimbabwe, he made one run in two innings in a Test where New Zealand's batsmen were constantly under pressure. (He wasn't entirely to blame for the dismissals, though, getting run-out in the first innings, and getting a grubber in the second.)

Centurion was just one Test match, but through much of 2014 and 2015, Taylor disappointed after promising plenty in the two previous years: in 2012 and 2013, his average soared to 62.40, with six centuries in 20 Tests. At the end of 2013, Taylor was 29, and that should have been the beginning of a prolific period for him. What followed, though, was two fairly ordinary years, in which he managed just two hundreds from 31 innings, and averaged 39.21. In those 31 innings, only nine times did he go past 40, while 15 times he was dismissed under 25. Twenty-six percent of his runs during this period came in one innings, the 290 he scored in Perth. Exclude that innings, and his average falls drastically to 29.92, which hardly befits a batsman of his stature. Even in 2012-13 when his overall numbers were outstanding, Taylor averaged less than 40 in four out of eight series.

Even with those inconsistencies, Taylor's overall Test stats in the last four-hand-a-half years are superb: 3150 runs from 72 innings, at an average of 55.26. That is better than the averages for Williamson, Joe Root, Younis Khan, David Warner, Misbah-ul-Haq and Virat Kohli, among several others. With a cut-off of 2500 runs, only five batsmen have a higher average.

However, those numbers don't tell the complete story about Taylor's batting during this period. Apart from his inconsistent streak, Taylor has also tended to get most of his runs against poorer bowling attacks. Since the start of 2012, Taylor has played four innings against Zimbabwe, and scored 486 runs without being dismissed; his scores are 122*, 173*, 124* and 67*. Against Bangladesh, he has scored 135 runs at 67.50, and against West Indies during the same period he has amassed 808 runs in eight Tests at an average of 73.45.

The numbers against West Indies are particularly interesting: in five away Tests against them he averages only 34.77, but in three home Tests in 2013-14 he got on another run-spree, racking up scores of 217*, 16*, 129, 131 and 2* - 495 runs at 247.50.

While these runs show his appetite for huge scores, they also indicate a tendency to make them against relatively weaker bowling attacks, for it is undeniable that these three teams have had the poorest attacks over the last few years. Exclude the matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, and Taylor's average drops to 45.98, which is 14th out of 19 batsmen who have scored at least 2000-plus runs during this period. Exclude West Indies as well, and the average plummets further, to 39.11, which is 24th out of the 31 batsmen who have scored at least 1500 runs against the other teams. Williamson, on the other hand, is sixth in this list with an average of 52.03, better than all batsmen except Root (52.85), de Villiers (53.56), Amla (55.92), Smith (57.63) and Clarke (58.86). These numbers clearly explain why Taylor isn't included in the top bracket of batsmen.

Even though Taylor has an overall average of 55.26 since the start of 2012, his average against most of the top teams during this period is in the 30s: it is 31.16 versus England, 33.50 versus India, 34.72 against Sri Lanka, 34.80 against South Africa, and 37 against Pakistan. The only top team against whom Taylor has done well is Australia (average 81 in six innings), but his only 50-plus score against them is the 290 he made in Perth in 2015; exclude that, and his average against them drops to 28.75. His numbers in India during this period are similarly lopsided - 157 runs in four innings, but 113 of them came in a single innings. It isn't as if he has performed in tough conditions: in his last Test match as captain, with New Zealand 1-0 down in the series in Sri Lanka, Taylor scored 142 and 74 in a match-winning and series-leveling performance. However, it is also true that these tough runs haven't come often enough.

On the current tour to India, New Zealand's batsmen are likely to find the conditions and India's spinners pretty challenging. For Taylor, who is New Zealand's third-highest run-getter in Tests and their most experienced batsman in the current line-up, it is a fine opportunity to prove that he can consistently score runs in challenging conditions. The runs, or lack of them, by Williamson and Taylor will probably be a key factor in deciding how the series pans out.