Safer, sounder, all-weather Ross Taylor set for special hundred

How you deal with failures shapes you as a person - Taylor (3:08)

The 35-year old looks back on the lessons he has learnt during his long career (3:08)

The nets at the Basin Reserve give you an opportunity to get much closer to batsmen than you can at most grounds. You're separated by a layer of chain-link fencing and one of netting, but when they're batting at the net that's furthest left, you're literally watching from forward short leg.

In the two days leading up to Ross Taylor's 100th Test match, a group of mediapersons watch him from that distance, some hoping to catch a little revelatory flicker: a shot, perhaps, but not necessarily; even just a look, a gesture, a tic that's all Ross Taylor and no one else.

Some of his team-mates have more extroverted personalities. Trent Boult is a chatterer, prone to voicing his thoughts to everyone present. "A real battle brewing between Boult and Latham here!"

Kane Williamson is full of little observations that he passes onto his bowlers, about their lines and lengths and what they're doing with the ball. "That one swung early," he tells Kyle Jamieson at one point. "The last one went a little later."

Taylor, chinstrap prominent under his helmet grille, is harder to read, seemingly cocooned in a shell of his own thoughts. There's a crease in his brow, and his lips are pursed as he settles into his stance, bat held up slightly above stump height, a change from his younger, bat-down days.

His trigger movement for quicker bowlers is a small forward press, and from there you realise how little time batsmen actually get to move their feet at the top level. Usually there's just enough for a shift of weight forward or back, for the head to move into line, and for the hands to do the rest.

Taylor's hands, low to the ground and tighter on the handle than most batsmen's, are among the quickest in the business. You see it when he sweeps Ajaz Patel, or when he prances out of his crease and lassoes one against the turn, flat and incredibly hard, over wide mid-on - or that's where it would have gone had the net not intervened.

Against the faster bowlers, the hands stay respectful; he's in Test-match mode, getting his eye in, looking to play mostly in the V. The bowlers know him well enough, too, to not allow him to unleash those hands. There's hardly anything short and nothing remotely wide.


Paul Gibbs knows all about "those fast hands, those cutting hands he's got". Taylor already had those hands when he arrived at Palmerston North Boys' High School as a 16-year-old back in 2000. The Central Districts Cricket Association had identified Taylor as a special talent, and convinced his family to send him 92km north from Masterton, his hometown, to further his cricketing development at Palmerston North.

The school has produced numerous New Zealand internationals over the years, from Vic Pollard and Ian Smith back in the day to Adam Milne and George Worker most recently. In March 2008, four old boys - Jamie How, Jacob Oram, Matthew Sinclair, and Taylor - were team-mates in the same Test match, against England in Hamilton.

A picture of the four of them hangs on the wall of Gibbs' office, as do various other bits and bobs of paraphernalia, including a jersey Taylor wore while playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, and a cartoon of Taylor sulking after being given out.

Gibbs played nine matches - three first-class, six List A - for Central Districts in the 1990s, and though the school website lists him as "Director of Teaching & Learning Mathematics", he made his biggest impact on Taylor as a cricket coach. Gibbs will come to the fast, cutting hands in due course, but the first thing he recalls about the young Taylor was his presence at the crease.

"[When] he came out to bat, the pace of the game changed, and the game was played at Ross's pace," Gibbs says. "Not necessarily sure whether that was deliberate in any way, but it's just something that he did naturally, I think.

"He comes out to bat at the fall of a wicket, and the [opposition] team's all exuberant and celebrating, and then Ross would walk out with purpose, and he would do his, you know, tapping the wicket, the gardening, and survey the field. The bowler would be primed at the end of the run-up, waiting to bowl to him, and he'd look around and take his guard, and then he would turn around and scratch the ground and mark his guard, and he'd walk around.

"The bowler's still waiting, and then he had this habit of, when he took his stance, he'd just look at the ground and whack his bat a few times, and he'd be still looking down, so the bowler can't even start. And then, when he was ready, he'd look up and go, right, let's play, you know? He was amazing like that.

"If a spin bowler was trying to get through an over quickly, nah, Ross would just wander off, and wander to his partner, re-take his guard, and they were things that you don't often see. Normally when they go to bat they're nervous, and the opposition, even if they told him to hurry up, he'd just go slower."

Taylor could already hit the ball a long way too. Giving an impromptu guided tour of the school, Gibbs points out the grandstand - tiny, really, but grand in relation to the more modest structures around it - which is easily 70m from a pitch that's grassier than the main cricket ground's outfield, and says Taylor once hit a six over it, square on the leg side.

People often talk about the influence of hockey on Taylor's leg-side hitting. Gibbs neatly inverts the trope while recalling Taylor's days as a striker in the hockey first eleven.

"I think hockey people would say he was a little bit lazy, you know, just waited for somebody to pass him the ball," he says. "He had quite good pace off the mark, and that cricket swing that he's got, he used to hit the ball very hard. I wouldn't have liked to be a goalie. He was a man of few steps. He wasn't going to run too far. He'd just trap it and, you know, tomahawk it."

The school's first, second and third cricket XIs would play in the local club competition, against teams full of players much older than them, and this accelerated Taylor's development considerably.

"There was a lot of this, you know?" Gibbs says, his right hand making a chattering gesture. '"You're a schoolboy, you know, who are you?'" Gibbs mimes Taylor clubbing the next ball for six. "'Bet you can't do that again.'" Another six.

Taylor had the shots then, as well as the ability to bunt a single and get off strike, but he hadn't developed a proper defence yet. "He wasn't a great leaver of the ball," Gibbs says. "I think he found that, when he was playing first-class cricket, four-day cricket, that was one of the things he had to learn, when your team's five for 40, that you can't just [go after the bowling], then you'd get out. You've got to build your innings and take a little time. I think maybe that got highlighted more once he left school."


Speaking on Radio Sport Breakfast earlier this week, Craig McMillan, one of Taylor's early team-mates and later New Zealand's batting coach, said something interesting.

"I was finishing just as Ross was starting, in terms of white-ball cricket, and I thought he was special then; there was something different about him. I remember, I think his first ODI hundred against Australia, in the Chappell-Hadlee series against [Glenn] McGrath and Mitchell [Johnson] and Shaun Tait, those sorts of guys. It was one of those innings that said, yup, this guy's going to be the goods. I wasn't so sure about Test cricket, I have to admit. I thought he was going to be a very good white-ball cricketer for New Zealand but I wasn't so sure that he would go on and have a huge red-ball career."

It wasn't an unusual assessment in the early stages of Taylor's career, and even Martin Crowe, who would go on to play a major role in turning those perceptions around, dismissed him as a "dirty slogger" the first time he watched him.

Videos from the early part of Taylor's international career show a rather different batsman to the one you see now. The cover drive is the biggest barometer of that change. Where he once drove with an extravagant flourish, trusting his eyes and whirling hands and often meeting the ball well away from his body, he's now almost self-consciously compact while playing the shot. His head is right over the ball, his bat traces a small, precise arc as it punches it into a gap, and his weight-transfer onto the front foot segues seamlessly into a sprint to the other end.

The drives aren't as pleasing on the eye anymore, but they're safer, sounder, better engineered for prolonged run-gathering. It's a small price to pay for turning yourself into a world-class, all-weather Test cricketer.

There have been other adjustments too, some necessitated by forces beyond Taylor's control. A pterygium - a triangular tissue growth on the cornea - in his left eye contributed to a prolonged lean run that, nevertheless, included his highest Test score, 290 against Australia at the WACA.

Through that run of poor form, his right eye began to take on more and more of the burden of watching the ball, and his shoulders began to open up. His bat began coming down at an angle, from gully towards wide mid-on, causing him to slice across the line in defence. This kept happening on a torrid tour of India in 2016-17, against R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and six Test innings brought him a highest score of 36.

Taylor's extraordinary return to form since he had his pterygium removed - particularly in ODIs - is well-documented, but let's go back to his last Test before the surgery, in November 2016, against Pakistan in Hamilton. Deciding to undo the opening-up of his shoulders and get back to a fully side-on stance, Taylor played a pair of remarkable innings: 37 off 31 balls in the first innings, an unbeaten 102 off 134 in the second, with drives and cuts repeatedly singeing the grass on the off side.

This was the Taylor of the fast hands and attacking instincts, and if he was seeing the ball this well with his left eye awaiting surgery, it was something of a glimpse into his extraordinary natural gifts as a cricketer. He's often kept them under wraps to fulfill the needs of various Test-match situations, but occasionally, he's simply walked out and played his shots from the get go: he rates innings of this nature in Manchester and Dubai among his very best, and Indian fans will also remember a brilliant, 127-ball 113 in Bengaluru back in 2012, immediately after he'd appeared all at sea during the first Test in Hyderabad.

It's one of the quirks of Taylor's career. He averages 34.80 in the first Tests of series, and 60.59 in second Tests.


Imagine breathing the air of the stripey wooden pavilion of Palmerston North Boys' High School, not as a cricket journalist but as an actual cricketer. The school has been around since 1902, and the honours boards stretch back nearly that far. If you're playing for the first XI, you have the chance to get on the same bit of aged wood as a bunch of former and current New Zealand players.

In every corridor of the school are reminders of who walked through them before. The first-eleven photograph from 1974, for instance, has Ian Smith, the wicketkeeper-batsman-turned-endearly-excitable-commentator, sporting shoulder-length blond locks.

Taylor spent two years in that pavilion, walking those corridors, and in due course he transcended those spaces and became one of New Zealand's greatest-ever cricketers. But some of the connections he made there still remain intact.

"I think when you live in a hostel situation for a couple of years, you get tight with some friends, and he had some good friends in his cricket team, and he's still very, very friendly with some of them," Gibbs says. "I know that they still meet up regularly and probably reminisce, and he probably feels safe with them.

"Some of them are teaching, some of them have played a bit of sport. Ian Smith's boy, Jarrod? He was a football player. He was captain of Ross's team when he was here. He went on and played some good footy. Some of them are pretty good businessmen, a lot of them still play as well, so that's nice. He knows that they're loyal to him.

"One of his mates was a really good hockey player, and they were good mates. That particular mate used to run out to the field and celebrate his hundreds, run out and shake his hand, during the game, like you're not meant to. I think, without giving too much away, I'm pretty sure I saw the boy run on to McLean Park in Napier to celebrate his hundred, ran on to the field to shake his hand and ran off."

Family and friends will no doubt throng Basin Reserve for Taylor's 100th Test. Gibbs expects to be there as well, for the first session on Friday.

"I don't know if I have enough tickets for them all, they're all coming out of the woodwork!" Taylor joked during his press conference two days ahead of the Test. "All the old coaches and things like that. It's a nice time to celebrate them and what they have done for my career. I think my celebrating comes after the Test match. This is just to thank them for all the sacrifices they have made."

And if Taylor defies his curiously ordinary record in first Tests and scores a hundred, we might also get to witness a pitch intrusion or two.