Taylor overcomes torrent of ill luck

Ross Taylor has not had it easy over the past few years. He lost the captaincy in a leadership switch so acrimonious it prompted newspaper tirades, radio-talkback swearing, and blazer bonfires. He was hit so hard in the gonads in 2015, he required surgery and a recovery period of two months. In between, he had seen his mentor battle cancer twice before tragically losing the fight. And just as Taylor finished up one of his worst batting tours, in India, Brendon McCullum's book cast fresh aspersions on Taylor' s leadership, and told of rifts "that will probably never heal".

He was down on his luck. Before this Pakistan series, Taylor was the sullen sitcom protagonist muttering "at least things can't get any worse". But then peals of thunder rang out and galumphing raindrops began to fall. He was the cartoon character who had been beaten up on the city sidewalk before, from the 16th floor, a grand piano came whistling down.

It was an eye problem. Taylor was in one of the worse form ruts of his career and, on top of it all, he had developed an eye problem. The bad-taste Twitter jokes almost wrote themselves. Would he need a seeing-eye dog at the crease? Would New Zealand Cricket issue the team-sheet in braille? If he was thrown a piece of fielding equipment to place behind the wicketkeeper, would he snatch the helmet and start racing around thinking he'd pouched a catch at slip?

When it was announced he would play in this Test despite the ailment, knives may have been sharpened in the media. Headlines with the phrase "blind ambition" may have been penciled in. Hot-takes ending with "should have seen this coming" were dreamt up and kept on mental standby.

Yet, just as in 2012, when his captaincy was at its nadir following a Test in Galle, Taylor's response to personal crisis was runs. In the first innings at Hamilton, he had hit four boundaries faster than you could say "pterygium", the salvo leaving Pakistan's early momentum punctured. He departed to an excellent in-ducker for 37, but was almost immediately fluent when he came to the crease in the second innings - shellacking short balls behind backward point, and cracking a few through the covers for good measure.

Imran Khan would add to Taylor's ailments by drawing blood with a lifter that hit his glove in the 56th over and, before long, Wahab Riaz had made it his second-session mission to hit him there again. A microcosm of Taylor's larger plight began to play out. He was ducking bouncers like questions about his place in the team, he was diverting balls off his hip like suggestions his dealings with coach Mike Hesson had been forever soured. Occasionally, he would lean back, blast a ball behind point, and remind us all of his ferocious talent as a batsman. When he pulled a ball to the boundary the blinding 290 in Perth was brought to mind. When he shuffled forward to smother Azhar Ali's spin, the lionhearted 104 in a Dubai draw was briefly remembered.

Late in the day, with a part-time legspinner bowling, and quick runs to be had, he even resisted the old urge to dust off the old leg side heave. This was the shot that had made him IPL riches; it had even helped bring him a famous World Cup hundred against Pakistan. Taken instead were the more measured leg side options: the lap sweeps and the well-timed flicks off the toes. As he neared his hundred, talk of failing eyes had been forgotten - it was the power in his wrists, and the spring in his feet that entered the conversation. It was his decision-making that caused the flutter online.

"Leading into this game over three or four days, I was wondering if I'd play this Test match," Taylor said after play. "But I'm very happy that I made that decision. There were definitely thoughts in my mind not to play. It was good to draw on experience - I've been in that situation before - and put the team in a good position."

However the Test ends on Tuesday, Taylor will begin to prepare for his surgery, which is scheduled for the following day. It is said be a straightforward procedure, which should take no more than six weeks to recover from.

As he prepares for the layoff, he has reminded fans this New Zealand team is lucky to have him. And that though events seem to continually conspire to push him out completely, cricket is fortunate Taylor keeps fighting to stay.

*The 104 in Dubai had come in a draw. The article had originally said it had come in a loss.