A last guard of honor for Luteru Ross Taylor
After 450 international appearances for New Zealand, the indescribably red wine and KFC passionate hitter has retired.
This story first appeared on The Bounce, a Substack newsletter by Dylan Cleaver.
For a man who has always been happy to let the numbers frame his career, there was a lot wrong with Ross Taylor on Monday at Seddon Park, his spiritual home.
There were 203, to start with, the second-wicket partnership between Martin Guptill (106) and Will Young (120). That left just 71 innings when Taylor headed for the crease for his 236th ODI and 450th and final international for New Zealand.
It wasn’t enough time to do something important, but plenty of time to do something stupid. As it was, he found some middle ground, pushing a few singles, pulling off a signature slog-sweep from Holland’s Logan van Beek that dipped above the midwicket boundary with a few inches left. saving for six, then skied the kind of ‘dirty work’ that nearly got mentor Martin Crowe quit under the first-impression-never-get-a-second-chance clause.
He scored 14, taking his New Zealand record to 18,199 in all formats.
Taylor turned on her heels and happily walked away, making it clear that this fall Monday night was, for once, not about the score. It was a chance to say goodbye with the small inconvenience of having to work with a conclusion at 50 on one side.
Yes, many of us wish Taylor’s last act as an international striker was Mohammed Shami’s square kick in Southampton, the runs that carried the Black Caps to victory in the inaugural Test World Championship . This, the high point in New Zealand cricketing history, would have been a more fitting coda for the career of one of our greats, but it also misses the point: he was not ready to what it ends at that time.
This farewell, then, was the least we could do for Taylor, a man who dedicated 16 of his 38 years to the national cause, marking 40 international centuries in the process.
Forty! It’s a number to celebrate, but here we go again, turning to statistics to cover up a lack of insight and there’s a good reason for that: when it comes to writing about Taylor, words don’t quite stick. never easily up to date.
When you think of other modern New Zealand cricketing heroes, many have oversized, almost cartoonish qualities. There was Richard Hadlee, the obsessive perfectionist; the mustachioed king of rhythm and swing. Crowe was the teenage prodigy with masterful technique who was forced to be a man before his time. Stephen Fleming, courteous and imperturbable; Daniel Vettori, the bespectacled bulwark between New Zealand and, too often, ignominy; Brendon McCullum, all the Popeye forearms and “follow me, guys”. Then there’s Kane Williamson, the supernaturally humble batting scholar.
And Taylor? Never been able to put my finger on it. A chameleon at the fold and well his own man away from him.
He is neither introverted nor outspoken. He’s not one of the cool kids, but he’s not a nerd. It can hit bulging chest or downcast eyes. He can approach difficult questions thoughtfully, but will more often dismiss them with a quip. He is recognized as a lover of rich, complex red wines and KFC buckets. It’s the genius that Wisden recently described as “invisible.” Taylor is humble, but aware of his worth.
Five years ago I was commissioned by The Cricket Monthly to try to find the essence of Taylor’s stick. Here is what I wrote then:
After interviewing him for two hours…I wonder[ed] if he had spent most of his life conforming to other people’s expectations, to the point of having learned to suppress the real him in public. It’s an internal monologue that sticks with me for a long time and disrupts the premise of this story…While the next 12 months could prove critical to Taylor’s legacy, the baton is only part of his story. What’s more interesting is who he is, where he came from and how he got here.
Taylor, the Samoan kid from the blue-collar end of a middle-sized provincial town playing a predominantly white, middle-class metropolitan sport, was never very interested in being defined by how different he was. .
He wanted to be remembered for his races; for how good he was at the sport he loved; for how many games he has helped his team win.
He has a hell of a story to tell. One day I hope he will say it well.
The international chapter of cricket is however closed. He did it himself, netting a missed shot from Dutch tailender Aryan Dutt in midwicket.
The catch was his 351st.
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