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The dude who outdid himself

He was initially the undisputed golden boy, but has since been eclipsed by players more talented, who have more fanfare, and yet he is still here

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
"Gracious, did you ever think I'd play 438 games?"  •  ICC via Getty

"Gracious, did you ever think I'd play 438 games?"  •  ICC via Getty

December 26, 2020. Ross Taylor is walking out into the middle. His pace is brisk. Along the way, he practices a couple of forward defensives. Then he looks skyward. Four-hundred-and-thirty-eight times he has performed this routine and the PA at the Bay Oval makes sure everyone at the ground understands how big of a deal that is. Ladies and gentlemen, walking out right now is the most capped New Zealand player in all of cricket history.
The funny thing is Taylor didn't hear any of it. His focus wouldn't allow for that noise. The only reason he even found out about the announcement was because some of the Pakistan players came up to congratulate him. That doesn't mean he was averse to it all. Seventy hard-earned runs and the steadfast determination he showed to counter a Pakistan attack that was at times unplayable suggest that he wanted to do something special. He wanted to remember, proudly, a day that's been 13 years in the making.
Taylor will be retiring from international cricket this season. His game has changed a lot. The younger version was all flash. The IPL version was thrill-a-minute. The current version is rather more studious with a closed stance and an actual backlift. He barely had one when he burst on the scene in 2006. But through all the little fiddling and tinkering, one thing has remained the same. He stood up to be counted when things got tough.
That should be the abiding memory of a man who has outdone himself.
"Gracious, did you ever think I'd play 438 games?" Taylor said and burst out laughing.
Hiding from stardom is a very New Zealand thing. The way BJ Watling did it, you would think kind words are actually deadly weapons. But only Rosco would straight-up lol... at himself... for doing something pretty epic.
It wasn't always this way though.
Some of the darkest days in New Zealand cricket were in 2012. Brendon McCullum chronicled it in his book Declared which paints Taylor as a leader who didn't know how to communicate with his team. The amount of mistrust going around at the time had the whole dressing room on the verge of imploding.
There is never a good time for revelations like that to come out. But when they did, on October 20, 2016, Taylor was armpit deep in a battle to help New Zealand win an ODI in one of the toughest places to tour in the modern game.
Imagine facing the press after that.
Imagine doing anything after that and see if the voice inside your head doesn't eat you alive.
The outside of his head wasn't doing all that great either. He had developed a growth in his left eye that was obscuring his vision. Good thing his livelihood didn't depend on being able to see a small, concentrated mass of leather hurled at him in speeds that could break human bone.
Taylor scored a century while in this state - No. 16 in Test match cricket. Then he went under the knife. And emerged a player reborn. His one-day game shot through the roof. Among those who played at least 10 matches between the World Cups in 2015 and 2019, only Virat Kohli averaged better than his 68.85.
That is Ross Taylor. Dude gets written off. But he doesn't care. He gets put in tough spots. But he overcomes.
Cue 2012 again. When his captaincy was being dragged through the mud, he produced one of his finest hundreds to level a series in Sri Lanka.
In 2015, after Australia had bullied the New Zealand bowlers into the dirt in Perth, he gave it right back to them and made the highest Test score by a visiting batter on those shores.
In 2018, when England had reduced them to 2 for 2 in a chase of 336, he displayed other worldly skill to turn a foregone conclusion into a last-over thriller. Taylor nearly made an ODI double-century that day and he scored many of those runs - the most crucial ones anyway - on one leg for as spectacular as his hands were working in swatting even the good balls away, his hamstring had just given out. An ESPNcricinfo jury rated that innings as the best performance of the year.
This is a man who has been hurt by his board, who was once the undisputed golden boy, but has since been eclipsed by players more talented than he will ever be, who have more fanfare than he will ever get, and yet he is still here.
Ross Taylor. Is still here.
At least till the end of summer.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo