Shy and measured yet assertive and flamboyant: who is the man behind the batsman?
Anybody who chanced upon the scene would have noted the incongruity. There was Dermot Hurslton Payton, the Wairarapa farming scion, standing on a chair feeding balls into a bowling machine. At the other end, hunched over his bat, in the dead of the midwinter mid-1990s night, was a Samoan kid from the side of town where kids learn to make the most of what they've got.
And the sound.
Payton, now a 71-year-old who has spent the best part of a life under the sun mentoring young cricketers when not tending his cattle, remembers the sound, like the crack of a whip, as the ball pinged off the bat. Ball after ball after ball. Straight, too. Dead straight. Payton felt more vulnerable standing on that chair than he ever had done facing the new ball over the course of a 12-year first-class career for Central Districts.
"I would put my life in his hands," he recalls. "He was only a kid, but man, did he hit the ball hard. I stopped suggesting straight drives after a while."
Payton had been contacted by the Central Districts Cricket Association, a first-class cricketing authority covering eight provinces from the middle of North Island to the top of South. They'd heard about a talented boy from Masterton, the largest town in the Wairarapa province, and wanted Payton to mentor him during the winter months.
"He never missed a session. Ever. I didn't have to instruct him. His shot selection was impeccable. Full and wide, cover drive. Full and on middle and leg, on-drive. Short and wide, cut. You could tell he was a talent. He was just so natural. It wasn't a case of rebuilding him or pulling apart his technique. It was near perfect."
Payton would turn up, unlock the doors to the indoor facility and feed balls into a machine for hours and wonder how far the kid could go. Because natural ability wasn't the only thing Payton noticed. He sensed vulnerability, an almost crippling shyness. The boy had all the shots but Payton doesn't mind admitting now that he didn't see the X-factor, that intangible edge needed to go from good to international.
"Cricket gear was expensive. Grandma and granddad helped out along the way. It was always nice to do well and feel proud as a grandkid doing well, knowing you'd had a lot of help from them"
"I didn't think he'd rise as far and as fast as he did. I never thought he could captain his country, but he did. I didn't think he had the sort of driven personality to take him to the top; that he would be able to voice his thoughts that well."
Stars can be created from unlikely sources. Ross Taylor is testament to that. Ahead of a busy home summer of cricket he sat third in New Zealand's Test batting aggregates (5688) and second on the Test century lists (15), fourth on the ODI aggregates (5826) and second in ODI centuries (15). Taylor wouldn't have to score another run to be remembered as one of the country's best. Yet his feats have sometimes been overlooked in the rush to anoint Kane Williamson as the saviour.
There is something else that is harder to explain: there remains an unknowable quality to Taylor. He is unfailingly polite, often deferential, but rarely exposes too much of his personality to the public. In fact, it wasn't until he lost the captaincy in 2012 that we saw he bled like the rest of us.
After interviewing him for two hours at a café near his Hamilton home in September I couldn't help but wonder if he'd spent most of his life conforming to the expectations of others, to the point where he has learnt to suppress the real him in public. This is an internal monologue that stays with me for a long time and is messing with the premise of this story. It was to be a bold-faced evaluation of the evolution of Taylor as a batsman: from the dasher who emerged in 2006, all classic cover drives and not-so-classic swipes over midwicket; to the more prosaic run machine of his middle years; to the batsman we see now, struggling with poor eyesight and inconsistency. This is a guy who has seen his Test average dip after years of creeping towards 50 - a near-mythical mark for New Zealanders who play much of their cricket in bowler-friendly conditions.
Taylor's past two years with the bat have been as enigmatic as his personality, with one-off spurts of brilliance - 290 in Perth for example - preceded and followed by fallow periods. What was for a while a seemingly slump-proof technique has been exposed. At least part of the problem can be attributed to a pterygium, a small benign growth often called "surfer's eye" that has affected his sight and flared up after the first home Test of the summer, against Pakistan, another unproductive outing for Taylor after a horror tour to India.
Craig McMillan dismisses Taylor in a North Island v South Island match, 2005
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Craig McMillan dismisses Taylor in a North Island v South Island match, 2005 © Getty Images
Taylor was once a certainty for selection; now, for the first time, people were genuinely questioning whether he had a future in a national side that was already in transition. Did he have another fight in him?
While the next 12 months could prove critical to Taylor's legacy, batting is only a part of the story. More interesting is who he is, where he's from and how he got here.
And that all starts with the name.
Ross Tay-lor. Three clipped syllables. So very Anglo. So very middle New Zealand, but that's not who Taylor is. That person is a figment.
It was always meant to be Luteru Taylor. A proud name. The product of the union between his Samoan mother, Ann, who emigrated to New Zealand in her teens, and Kiwi father and former representative cricketer Neil.
"On my first day of school my mother and grandma took me along to enrol. The principal, this old guy, couldn't get his tongue around my name. I guess there weren't too many Polynesian kids in Masterton in those days," Taylor recalls. "In this day and age I'd be called Luteru and there'd be no problem. After a while they gave up and said, 'Just call him Ross.' I've been called Ross ever since."
Not many Samoans have played cricket for New Zealand. Taylor was just the second after left-arm seamer Murphy Su'a, who played 13 Tests in the mid '90s. While Polynesians have added flair and starch to the dominant winter codes of rugby union and rugby league, cricket in New Zealand has been an overwhelmingly white, middle-class pursuit. Not that Taylor noticed he was any different.
"Did I always want to be captain? I always thought I could do the job. In an ideal world it would have been nice to get the job a couple of years later"
"I never even gave it any consideration until journalists started asking me about it," he says. "Maybe it would have been a bit different if my name was Luteru, I don't know."
The lack of Polynesian representation in cricket illustrates the lack of appetite to dig deep enough to find talent. "You can see the athletic talent pool we have in league, rugby, netball, sports like that. Pacific Islanders are very talented athletes," Taylor says. He aims to further the work of Su'a, who is trying to promote the sport in communities where it has been neglected for long.
His heritage is something he is quietly proud of. He spoke Samoan fluently until he left home for boarding school where he didn't have his mother to bounce conversations off. "After I'd been away for a while I'd have to say, 'Sorry, I don't understand that.' I can still speak it a little, and understand most of it, but not when it's spoken too quickly."
Taylor is a product of place just as much as race. Although born in Wellington's Hutt Valley, home was Masterton, population 21,000 and loose change. It is the sort of place you won't find on tourist trails. Just down the road you have Martinborough, home to wine buffs and blockbuster directors like Peter Jackson and James Cameron, but Masterton has more need for panel beaters than A-listers.
Situated on the Ruamahanga River that flows east out of the Tararua Ranges - the spine of hills through the lower North Island - Masterton is a farming-supply centre. Its heroes are men of the land, like legendary All Blacks captain and World Cup-winning coach Brian Lochore. The most oft-told tale around these parts is about the day Pam Lochore returned home in 1971 to find a note from her husband, indicating with typical economy of words and emotion that he had come out of retirement for the weekend: "Gone to Wellington. Playing Test tomorrow."
In the Colombo Test, the last one before he lost his captaincy, Taylor scored 142 and 74 in New Zealand's first Test win in Sri Lanka in 14 years
In the Colombo Test, the last one before he lost his captaincy, Taylor scored 142 and 74 in New Zealand's first Test win in Sri Lanka in 14 years © AFP
Yes, the men of the Wairarapa are stoic and undemonstrative. Get too big for your boots and you'll be cut down to size. It's a place, like so much of small-town New Zealand, where excellence is treated first with suspicion and only later with pride. It is not known as a cricketing province. Not by a long shot. Uncanny then, that in two towns separated by just a few kilometres, two of the most gifted cricketers of their generation would emerge.
"Jesse Ryder was from Carterton, just down the road," says Taylor. "We both grew up in the Wairarapa. He was opening the batting and I was No. 4 or 5."
While they had many similarities - Ryder was part-Maori, who have also been under-represented in cricket - there was a key difference: Taylor might not have had many material riches but he had a strong, supportive family network that the troubled Ryder never enjoyed.
"Mum and Dad struggled along and to go to cricket and hockey tournaments was quite expensive, and cricket gear was expensive, relative to what my parents could afford. My grandparents had a big influence on me. Grandma and granddad helped out along the way. It was always nice to do well and feel proud as a grandkid doing well, knowing you'd had a lot of help from them."
Taylor and Ryder were making a big impression by the time they hit the national age-group level. At an Under-15 tournament in Wellington, Taylor scored back-to-back centuries and for the first time was being talked about as a genuine prospect. Central Districts Cricket Association, despite Payton's resistance, decided it would be better for Taylor to leave Wairarapa College for a more established cricketing school. Ryder had already headed up the road to Napier Boys' High School, but Taylor was headed in another direction.
Palmerston North Boys' High School had gained a well-earned reputation as a cricketing hothouse, having produced internationals Jacob Oram, Mathew Sinclair and Jamie How in the years prior to Taylor's arrival.
"With no disrespect to Wairarapa College, Central Districts as an association saw the potential I had and wanted to find the best way to develop that and fast-track it," Taylor says. "With some help from CD people, Palmerston North and a few businesses in the area helped me go to boarding school there. It made me grow up a lot quicker. It was nice to be away from home and learn to deal with things yourself and develop a bit of resilience."
Taylor is unfailingly polite, often deferential, but rarely exposes too much of his personality to the public. In fact, it wasn't until he lost the captaincy in 2012 that we saw he bled like the rest of us
Critical to Taylor making the leap from being a day student at a small-town coed school to a boarder at a traditional, all-boys school in a much larger town, was Paul Gibbs, who enjoyed a brief first-class foray with Central Districts in the early '90s.
He believes the boarding house was critical to Taylor flowering as a more confident personality. The diffidence that Payton had earlier identified as a potential handbrake was being loosened.
"He had a close group of mates," says Gibbs. "They're still good friends. The boarding house does wonders for creating camaraderie among guys. He was still a humble guy and while he'd say hello, he'd never intrude on adult conversations."
Gibbs took a while to draft Taylor into the 1st XI. His philosophy was to look local and to stay loyal to those who had done the job for him. Taylor, who had joined the school halfway through the season, met neither criterion.
"I had guys in the team who had seen him in age-group cricket telling me to reconsider, that he was pretty handy. I just didn't want to drop a guy for a new kid, though, but it ended up we were missing a player that weekend, so Ross was drafted in. He didn't score that many but you could see the class. Took a couple of wickets and a nice slip catch. There was never any doubt he was in the team after that."
Although he was there for just two seasons, Taylor is one of four players on the honours board who has five centuries or more. Two of those centuries were scored in one memorable two-day match against Marist, one of the stronger sides in the premier club competition. It was to be a turning point in Taylor's development.
"It was one of those games when we were using player-umpires. Tradition dictates that when you're playing with team-mates as umpires, you walk when you nick one," Gibbs says. "I was standing at square leg and there was a huge appeal but Rossco didn't walk, and from where I was standing it looked very out. Well, these men just unleashed everything they had at him, and from my point of view he got everything he deserved.
New Zealand batting legend Martin Crowe became Taylor's mentor after first dismissing him as a "dirty slogger"
© Getty Images
New Zealand batting legend Martin Crowe became Taylor's mentor after first dismissing him as a "dirty slogger" © Getty Images
"It just transformed Ross. From there he was a different player. He took them apart. Before the second innings I told him why I thought he should have walked and told him that I wanted him to use the second innings as a chance to bat time. Well, he smashed 116 in less than a session and went out. It was pretty hard to criticise him after that."
Taylor had suddenly developed a swagger, and people were noticing.
Turns out it was just a front.
"That's the funny thing," Taylor says. "I was talking to [former New Zealand wicketkeeper] Gareth Hopkins about it one day and he was telling me that when he first came across me he thought, 'Who's this guy strutting out here all confidently?' I was like, 'Really?' I never saw it in myself. The chances are I was shitting myself. I was nervous as hell, but it's funny that perception people had of me. I guess when you're 16 or 17 you don't know any better."
In Taylor's final school year, Palmerston North made it to the top four of the Gillette Cup, the tournament to decide national schoolboy supremacy. In the semi-finals they played King's High of Dunedin.
"We played Baz [Brendon McCullum]. Baz didn't keep, he bowled and took three wickets. He didn't get me out, and I like to give him heaps because a mate of mine who weighed all of about 45kg hit him for six to win the game.
"We ended up losing to Wanganui Collegiate in the final. Dermot [Payton] was their coach."
One of Taylor's closest friends at school was Jarrod Smith, who would leave a promising cricket career behind to pursue professional soccer in the US. Cricket fans would more readily recognise his father, Ian, an astute commentator and former New Zealand wicketkeeper.
Taylor's past two years with the bat have been as enigmatic as his personality, with one-off spurts of brilliance preceded and followed by fallow periods. What was for a while a seemingly slump-proof technique has been exposed
Jarrod Smith in turn knew player-manager Leanne McGoldrick.
"In 2003, he spoke to me about a young up-and-coming talent and asked if I could help with some gear sponsorship," McGoldrick recalls. I immediately warmed to [Taylor]. He had a shy persona, softly spoken but warm. He had an aura about him."
Taylor was still a raw 19-year-old from so far outside the establishment he wouldn't have been able to name a single supposed mover or shaker. The well-connected McGoldrick, mother of cricket presenter Laura, who is married to Martin Guptill, was regarded as a maternal sounding board to her players as much as she was a manager. It would be a long and fruitful partnership.
By now Taylor had progressed through the national U-19 set-up. In a wonderful irony, his first year was spent under McCullum, and he captained the team when McCullum left.
"We toured around New Zealand," Taylor says. "I was a 17-year-old fresh out of boarding school who used to think it was pretty cool travelling down to Wellington. Now I was playing South Africa - they had Hashim Amla and Johan Botha - in places like Alexandra, Bert Sutcliffe Oval [near Christchurch] and Pukekura Park. That was when I first had the thought that I wouldn't mind giving cricket a bit of a nudge."
Frenemies: Taylor's schooldays competitior Brendon McCullum was later pitted against him for the role of New Zealand captain
© Getty Images
Frenemies: Taylor's schooldays competitior Brendon McCullum was later pitted against him for the role of New Zealand captain © Getty Images
"It hit my thigh pad and got caught up and ended up rolling back on to my stumps. One of those ones. I remember Macca was sledging me when I hooked a couple of fours, and I'm not much of a hooker. He's got a bit of a complex because he's so short," Taylor jokes. "He had to do something to make up for it."
Taylor had all the shots but conversely he didn't know how to bat. So perhaps McGoldrick's greatest gift was an introduction to the man who for so long stood unchallenged as New Zealand's best batsman: Martin Crowe. Determined to broaden Taylor's cricketing networks and intelligence, she convinced Crowe to come and watch him in action in a first-class match.
The move backfired spectacularly.
"The ball was going all over the place at Eden Park Outer Oval," Taylor says. "I saw him walking into the ground and around the boundary as I was batting and I thought, 'Geez, there's Martin Crowe.' Tama Canning and Kyle Mills were making me look silly. At that stage I didn't really trust my defence. My best form of defence was attack... probably not what was required on the first morning of a first-class game."
Taylor swiped a sketchy 10 off 14 balls before nicking a catch to first slip. "I was waiting to hear back from Leanne, but I don't think she had the heart to tell me. Eventually I found out Martin had told her I was nothing but a dirty slogger."
Crowe would quickly come around.
Where once he was not afraid to unfurl a cover drive first ball if it was up and wide, now he'll tend to watch the ball slide past, unmolested
With a shared love of red wine and batting, the two forged a relationship that served each other perfectly. Crowe, nicknamed Hogan, was a technical genius who identified Taylor's glitches before they became big problems. Taylor, meanwhile, provided Crowe with a continuing tangible connection to the international game he had been forced to retire from too young due to a crocked knee.
"Talking to Hogan over time, things he said to me when I was 24 didn't resonate with the same effect as they did as I matured and my game matured. They certainly resonated further down the track."
From those inauspicious beginnings at Eden Park's Outer Oval, Crowe helped Taylor tighten up his defensive technique.
"When there's a rained-out game and an old game will come on the telly, I'll watch myself, thinking, 'Oh geez, how did I bat like that?' You always tinker with your game anyway, but when you're younger and going through a lean patch, you tend to try to find quick fixes. Now I have learned to trust my game more."
If Taylor's introduction to first-class cricket was skittish, the step up to internationals was smoother. Those who feared his shyness might be an impediment in what was a hierarchical dressing room forgot the golden rule: quick runs can ease the way for anybody.
Taylor scored centuries in his third ODI and his third Test. (In a classic case of youthful naiveté, he forgot to drink water while compiling his first ODI ton and ended up spending the night in a Napier hospital on a drip.) His second Test century, 154 not out at Old Trafford, convinced him he had the mental strength to succeed at the top.
While he had always been reserved and polite, Taylor found the media's criticism about his decision to take a break from the game after the captaincy fiasco made him a harder person
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While he had always been reserved and polite, Taylor found the media's criticism about his decision to take a break from the game after the captaincy fiasco made him a harder person © Getty Images
"The reason I hold [the Manchester innings] in such high regard was because the conditions were tough and I was all over the place leading into that game. I got 19 and 20 at Lord's, and the way Hogan always talked about Lord's, it was the pinnacle for him. Whether that rubbed off on me and I put extra pressure on myself, I'm not sure, but I was all over the place and in a really bad headspace. To turn that around, to score 150, will go down as one of my best knocks."
"I'd just recovered from the operation after an incident in Zimbabwe where I got hit on the box in the nets… actually it missed the box completely," Taylor laughs. "To go over to Australia following that was tricky. I was underdone. I got a duck in the first innings at the Gabba and came out swinging in the second with no success. I was really out of sorts, but it shows how you can change yourself so quickly.
"I got a nice email from Martin before the Test. If I ever write a book, it will have the email he wrote in full. It was a nice little reminder of where I was and where he was in his life at that point. He wrote the email from hospice. That put things in perspective."
Ask Taylor about his philosophy on batting and like most class players it is based around simplicity. He puts a premium on those first few overs. Where once he was not afraid to unfurl a cover drive first ball if it was up and wide, now he'll tend to watch the ball slide past, unmolested.
"To be consistent, the first thing you need to do is to survive your first 20 to 30 balls. To do that you need to trust your defence. More often than not, if you get through those first 30 balls, batting becomes easier regardless of whether it's a flat wicket, spinning wicket or if it is seaming around. Some days that might happen earlier, other days it stretches out to 40 balls. The more you play the more accustomed you get to different conditions and environments… [but] no day is the same. You can be in good nick and have a bad night's sleep and suddenly you're struggling. You can be in good form and wait six hours to bat and by the time you get to bat, you're spent. You can be out of nick, squirt a couple through the gully for four, and all of a sudden something clicks."
Perhaps Leanne McGoldrick's greatest gift to Taylor was an introduction to the man who for so long stood unchallenged as New Zealand's best batsman: Martin Crowe
Taylor is still capable of playing incandescent one-day knocks, and every now and then will play a Test innings that has the effect of taking you back in time. Ask McCullum for his favourite Taylor knock and you can be guaranteed the second innings at Headingley last year will not be far from his mind. With the scores dead even after two innings, New Zealand were 23 for 2 when Taylor joined Guptill at the crease. He left 99 runs later with 48 to his name - relatively modest by most batsmen's standards - but McCullum had little doubt that the whole momentum of the innings shifted with that run-a-ball knock.
New Zealand won the Test by 199 runs.
In the one-day series that followed, Taylor scored 57, 119 not out, 110, 42 and 47. The unbeaten century at The Oval was a tribute to the shot Taylor might well be remembered for: the swat, some would say slog, over deep midwicket. The shot has its origins in Taylor's hockey career - many believe he could have been a double international - and is not unlike a slap shot from the edge of the 16-yard circle.
Taylor's career has been remarkably slump-proof, until this year, when a dreadful tour to India turned into an extended nightmare back home. Those failings will annoy Taylor, but not overly trouble him.
"I've played for ten years and while there'll always be new challenges, you learn to deal with it a bit better and not make too big a deal out of it, and play what's in front of you."
Play what's in front of you. Or lurking behind you. Taylor, this most outwardly placid of characters, was also a lead protagonist in two of the strangest, most talked about, incidents in New Zealand cricket: a two-way run-off for the captaincy, and the eventual loss of the job in bizarre circumstances.
The momentum maker: Taylor's run-a-ball 48 proved crucial in setting up New Zealand's 199-run win at Headingley in 2015
© Getty Images
The momentum maker: Taylor's run-a-ball 48 proved crucial in setting up New Zealand's 199-run win at Headingley in 2015 © Getty Images
This is not a subject Taylor enjoys rehashing. It is a pair of sleeping dogs he'd rather let lie, but a profile cannot be complete without a brief reappraisal. After all, the other chief protagonist, McCullum, recently launched a biography, Declared, that deals with the issues in excruciating detail.
McCullum described Taylor's leadership as uninspiring, and wrote that he appeared to hold a grudge against coach Mike Hesson from the moment he was appointed, when the team was on the point of imploding after tours to the West Indies and India.
Taylor, after a couple of coded tweets that have since been deleted, chose not to re-enter the fray, saying through a New Zealand Cricket spokesperson that he wouldn't be rushing out to buy the book. One suspects he will have the opportunity for literary redress when he finishes his career, probably after the 2019 World Cup if form holds.
Is it safe to assume that Taylor has changed as a person after the captaincy turmoil?
"I think so," he said in September before deflecting. "Even now I'm experiencing new things when I play cricket… There are going to be new challenges."
That was before McCullum's book hit the shelves. His response now might be more colourful but he is keeping a diplomatic silence.
Taylor averaged 49.85 as captain, above the 41.12 he had averaged to that point. He averaged 46.76 in ODIs, way above the 30 he had averaged under Stephen Fleming and 39 under Vettori
When Daniel Vettori stepped aside from the captaincy in 2011 in a well-signposted move, New Zealand Cricket did not give the job to Taylor, the vice-captain. Instead, they had McCullum, who had been sacked as vice-captain in 2009, vie for the role with Taylor. Both were asked to present to key staff, including coach John Wright, selector Mark Greatbatch and director of cricket John Buchanan, before the NZC board signed off on their recommendation. All this took time. The debate went viral. You could argue that the opinions formed in this vacuum effectively made the job impossible for whoever "won" it. It created an adversarial situation between two of the team's most important players.
The majority of the players wanted McCullum; the coach, selectors and board wanted Taylor. The media was split. The public largely backed the affable Taylor. The players' opinion was no slight on Taylor: he was a well-liked and respected member of the team but most wanted someone who would challenge Wright's orthodoxy. They were a young team, ready to throw off the conservative shackles. Taylor was seen as the safe choice.
If Taylor had been handed the job when Vettori stepped aside, this feeling would never had time to gestate. By turning it into a popularity contest NZC proved to be tone-deaf, and Taylor, unfortunately, was the right man at the wrong time.
"Did I always want to be captain? I always thought I could do the job. In an ideal world it would have been nice to get the job a couple of years later," he admits. "In saying that, I enjoyed the captaincy from the perspective that it made me a better batsman, having that added responsibility."
For many, Kane Williamson has surpassed Ross Taylor as New Zealand's modern batting giant. For Taylor, Williamson's arrival eased the burden of run-scoring on his shoulders
© Getty Images
For many, Kane Williamson has surpassed Ross Taylor as New Zealand's modern batting giant. For Taylor, Williamson's arrival eased the burden of run-scoring on his shoulders © Getty Images
Taylor averaged 49.85 as captain, above the 41.12 he had averaged to that point. In those 13 Tests he scored three centuries, including a brilliant match-winning knock in his final Test as captain, in Colombo. He averaged 46.76 in ODIs, way above the 30 he had averaged under Stephen Fleming and 39 under Vettori. He scored some notable victories as captain, but after a three-win, one-loss start, which included two wins against Zimbabwe, the wheels fell off. He was playing brilliantly but others were not being dragged up to his level.
Taylor had also lost Wright, who decided against renewing his contract. Hesson, a former team-mate and friend of McCullum, was now in charge. If Taylor didn't feel a little isolated by now, he wouldn't have been human.
What happened next has been written about, re-examined, cross-examined and judged so often it must feel like a never-ending trial by ordeal to those involved. Hesson, assistant manager Bob Carter and manager Mike Sandle knocked on Taylor's hotel door in Sri Lanka and told him they would be recommending a change of captaincy on their return to New Zealand. The timing was woeful. By the time the controversy became public, Taylor had carried the team to a remarkable victory in Colombo. The outcry was deafening. Taylor was shell-shocked. NZC knew it had handled Taylor appallingly and it was agreed that he could sit out the tour of South Africa.
"Regardless of what had happened, it was a busy time in my life as well. Mackenzie, my first child, had just been born, and for her first 14 months I barely saw her. When I didn't go to South Africa, it was just nice to be a dad for a bit. Obviously I still wanted to play cricket for New Zealand but it was nice to go back and see family and friends, and re-evaluate things."
Not everyone agreed with Taylor's decision to sit out the South Africa tour, portraying it as an act of pique when his team needed him. The criticism stung. He developed a shield, which the media increasingly found difficult to penetrate. He is still polite, just careful.
The men of the Wairarapa are stoic and undemonstrative. Get too big for your boots and you'll be cut down to size
"Did it affect me? It was never a question of whether I was going to play again, but definitely it made me a harder person. Mentally, I became a harder person. If that situation happened to anybody, they'd come out a bit harder."
Taylor returned to the side a vanquished hero. "That first game I came back, I had no idea Eden Park had stood for me. I came home and someone said to me, 'What did you think of the crowd?' I was like, 'What happened?'"
There were still fears Taylor would not be able to rouse himself to play with passion for the Hesson-McCullum power axis. Initially his old school coach Gibbs thought he could see Taylor struggling with his body language - the swagger was gone.
Taylor admits to a certain curiosity of his own. "I guess there is always a period after something like that has happened where you want to see how it will all play out," he says enigmatically.
One thing we do know for certain, the regime that would breathe new life back into cricket in New Zealand can thank in large part Taylor for kick-starting that process. Many forget that the Hesson-McCullum Test transformation was stuck in neutral for the first year or so. They were thrashed 2-0 in South Africa, played out a 0-0 stalemate at home to England before being destroyed by the same opposition 0-2 away, and were held 0-0 in Bangladesh. Nine Tests, zero wins.
Taylor had averaged 26.2 from ten Test innings in Australia when he made 290 in Perth in 2015. During the innings he broke Crowe's record for the highest score - 188 - by a New Zealand batsman against Australia
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Taylor had averaged 26.2 from ten Test innings in Australia when he made 290 in Perth in 2015. During the innings he broke Crowe's record for the highest score - 188 - by a New Zealand batsman against Australia © Getty Images
Then West Indies arrived and they witnessed the new, harder Taylor. It started in Dunedin, McCullum's home town. The captain scored 113, the former captain 217 not out.
"At the end of the day you're team-mates and you want to win games of cricket. Before Dunedin, I don't think Brendon had scored a century for close on three years. We ended up being denied by the rain. The next match [in Wellington] was important. It was Brendon and Hess' first win, and after that we got on a roll. We had the emergence of Kane as a batsman and Trent Boult wasn't far off. We had those five or six players who were stepping up consistently and around whom we could build a good side."
Taylor scored 129 in that second Test in the only innings New Zealand required, as Boult took ten wickets for the match. The third Test, in Hamilton, saw a minor masterpiece.
"That  was one of my better knocks. It was a bunsen out at Seddon Park and Sunil Narine [6 for 91] was doing his carrom-ball thing. If you nicked it you were definitely in good form. You had to tell yourself not to follow it. Easier said than done."
This was the evolution of Taylor's batting in plain sight. Some of the prettiness was gone. There were less thrill-seeking moments but more solidity. For the first time it seemed Taylor had been able to strip all emotion out of his batting.
The arrival of Kane Williamson has had a galvanising effect on the team and on Taylor the batsman. He admitted there were times in the pre-Williamson days when he felt if he failed, the team failed. This was especially acute when he was captain. After a sound but not startling start to his international career, Williamson is now casually referenced among the Kohlis, Roots and Smiths as the finest in the world. Even Crowe described Williamson's emergence as the dawning of New Zealand's greatest batsman.
"It's almost got to the stage now where if he [Kane Williamson] fails, I feel a bit flustered because I'm not used to having to get out there so early"
If Taylor feels bad about being left out of the conversation, he has never shown it. He and Williamson bat together, a lot. Just as importantly, they share the language of batting (that has, admittedly, failed them a few times when running between the wickets).
"He's one of the only guys out there who will actually come to me and talk about batting," Taylor says. "It's been quite nice. We talk about different scenarios we've been in and how our mental process works in that situation. He's so consistent in how he scores runs. It's almost got to the stage now where if he fails, I feel a bit flustered because I'm not used to having to get out there so early.
"I think I taught him a few things growing up but it's been nice for me to learn off him as well. Now he's skipper it's up to the senior guys to help him as much as we can and make that transition as easy as possible and to stamp his authority and style on the leadership."
No New Zealander has scored more than the 30 international centuries accumulated by Taylor, an often overlooked fact, and the most poignant run of his career might just have been in August, in a low-key Test in Bulawayo, when he went from 39 to 40 (on the way to 124 not out) and passed Crowe's tally of 5444 runs.
Crowe had once foretold that Taylor would shatter his records. Even Taylor thought Crowe might have been getting a bit ahead of himself.
So there is more to the Taylor story than a batting metamorphosis. In many ways his is a story of belonging. He might have been shy, but he had confidence, and in the end, runs are his currency.
"A lot of the time international cricket is about feeling you belong, so to score runs early at the highest level helps speed up that process. It made me feel like I belonged in that company."
His team-mates, numerous admirers and even Taylor himself face a period of anxiety, hoping those runs will start flowing again. If history has proved anything, it's to not doubt Taylor.
Even if he doesn't go on to score as prolifically as was once expected of him, Taylor will still be recognised as one of New Zealand's greatest batsmen
© Getty Images
Even if he doesn't go on to score as prolifically as was once expected of him, Taylor will still be recognised as one of New Zealand's greatest batsmen © Getty Images
Even in a worst-case scenario, if those troublesome eyes of his don't allow for a return to those truly prolific days, Taylor can take pleasure in what he has done… and who he has proved wrong.
Remember Payton, the man who fed the balls into the machine? "Look at his record," he says in awe. "He's not just very good, he's an absolutely outstanding New Zealand cricketer."
Payton had serious doubts whether Taylor would make it.
"I might have misjudged that a bit. He's proven me so wrong and I loved every minute of it."
Dylan Cleaver is sports editor-at-large of the New Zealand Herald
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.