Ross Taylor looks back at the various New Zealand teams he has been part of, the two World Cup finals, and the records he wants to set for Kane Williamson to chase
When you started out back in 2006, you were sharing a dressing room with the likes of Nathan Astle, while Stephen Fleming was captain. Very different personnel in the team now. Does it feel like those early years were another life?
Very much so. I probably still don't think I know what I'm doing at the moment, but I definitely didn't know what I was doing back then. I got into the Test team just before a big exodus of senior players. A few players, like Fleming and Scott Styris, retired after the 2007 World Cup and a few others, like Craig McMillan, went to the ICL. You had to grow up very quickly, from a batting perspective. From having those guys at the other end to having guys who were the same age as you, but with a lot less experience.
What was the team environment like back then compared to what it is now?
Back then there were a few strong personalities. I don't think those strong personalities are as prevalent in this side - however you want to take that. It's a lot more relaxed team environment. A lot of that is probably due to performance. You've got a core of senior players who know what to do, and when young fellas come in, we expect them to do well straight away, whereas I think we used to just hope that new players would do well.
You're a player of Samoan descent - not many of those around at international level. Did that ever feel like an extra responsibility?
I just thought of myself as a Kiwi growing up. I was brought up with a lot of Samoan traditions, which my mother instilled in our whole family, but I just saw myself as a Kiwi. It's not until I started playing at a higher level and articles started being written and questions began being asked of me that I noticed it more. I didn't feel an extra responsibility. I tried to do everything I can to promote the game, but I also knew that me playing and doing well was a strong message in itself. I never went out there to throw it down people's throats. I've been back to Samoa a few times to try and give back as much as I can.
"They'd all correct you when you said, 'Sorry we lost the game.' They'd stop you right there and go: 'No, you didn't lose the game, you tied the game'"
You never felt like you were looked at or judged differently?
I suppose, but that's probably for another day.
After the exodus you spoke about, the team went through a tough period, where a lot of people were saying it was the worst New Zealand team in their lifetime. Do you remember a particularly low point?
I think at one point we lost ten or 11 ODIs in a row. And we also lost 4-0 in a series in Bangladesh. We were getting ourselves into good positions but we weren't able to capitalise on them. It seems like a long time ago, those games. But sometimes you've got to hit rock bottom to get to the top.
Around that time, you developed a close relationship with Martin Crowe. How did that begin?
I had just played for New Zealand and Martin was around as a commentator. My manager had a good relationship with him, and she said, "Martin's always willing to help. Why don't you give him a call?" So I called him, and at that time I'd just made my ODI debut and hadn't played Test cricket. Tests were something I wanted to get good at. I flew up to Auckland and stayed with Martin. We both loved red wine. We talked 50% about cricket and 50% about wine. That was a good starting point. The relationship grew from there.
When you have a batting coach in the team, they have to look at 15 other players. It was nice to have Martin to give you his honest appraisal and not have any emotional bias. He'd look at me from a mental and technical point of view. That was invaluable to my career. I just wanted to play Test cricket back then. Here I am, having played 90-odd Test matches. I've been helped out by a lot of people, but definitely Martin had a big influence.
Taylor scored 142 in a famous Test win in Cololmbo shortly after learning that he was being removed from captaincy
Taylor scored 142 in a famous Test win in Cololmbo shortly after learning that he was being removed from captaincy © AFP
What was it about Martin that helped you vibe with him?
At the end of the day I trusted him. He had my best interests at heart. Sometimes that meant a nice text message. At other times it was home truths. Some people in that position might not be comfortable in delivering that message, but he was up front. That honesty what I loved about that relationship. Sometimes that means putting stuff on the table.
It must have been tough seeing him go through tough times with his health.
How do you answer that? It was not easy to see someone go through that. It put things in perspective. It was around the 2015 World Cup, and I remember him being around the changing room after he was inducted to the ICC Hall of Fame. It was nice to be there for some of those occasions. A lot of the time, in terms of our relationship, I guess it was nice to have a different outlet from what he was going through with chemo and everything else. It gave him a chance to still be involved in the game that had given him so much.
The last time when you were in Colombo was when you found out…
I found out at Galle, actually.
Okay, so you found out at Galle after the first Test in 2012 that you were losing the captaincy. With six years of hindsight, how do you look back at that period?
I think it showed you what you can do with a bit of resilience. I went two weeks without sleep. I was having probably two hours of sleep each night. But I was still able to score a 140-odd and back it up with a 70. It's amazing how resilient I felt I was back then. Things happen in life that are out of your control. It is what it is.
I look back at the World Cup final at Lord's and I don't think you can get further apart from Galle in 2012 to Lord's in 2019. Life is about ups and downs. The high of Lord's trumps anything that's happened to me in cricket.
"It's a lot more relaxed team environment [now]. A lot of that is probably due to performance. You've got a core of senior players who know what to do, and when young fellas come in, we expect them to do well straight away"
I think at the time Martin took it pretty badly as well. Was that sort of a comfort to you?
At that stage he'd just found out that [the cancer] had come back. I never burdened him with any of that stuff. It wasn't until it was about to break that I gave Martin the heads up. We've all moved on.
Is there anything you miss about the captaincy?
It's funny. Kane [Williamson] once asked Hashim Amla that and Hashim said the only thing he missed was the extra-large hotel room you get as captain. I agree. That's the only thing I miss - the suite was quite nice (laughs).
You've had some amazing years of run-scoring recently, but also some strange injuries. You were hit in the box in Zimbabwe and had to spend a couple of months out.
Yeah, I also strained my side practising reverse sweeping once and was injured for two weeks. I haven't reverse-swept since. I had some freaky injuries, but that's sport, I guess. The operation in Zimbabwe was interesting. The medical release just said it was an injury to the groin, so when I got home people just thought I'd hurt my groin. When I explained [that it was a testicle injury], it was a bit of a shock. The surgeon took a photo of it, and our doctor at the time sent it through to me. I found later that in New Zealand taking that kind of photo isn't legal. But I can show you it if you want (laughs). It was only facing Ish Sodhi as well. It wasn't against a fast bowler.
You've spoken as well about not being able to pick spinners out of the hand because of a growth in your eye that you later had removed.
Oh, I hated it. I hated playing spinners under lights back then.
Taylor on his way to 290 in Perth 2015 soon after first getting a diagnosis on his eye trouble
© Getty Images
Taylor on his way to 290 in Perth 2015 soon after first getting a diagnosis on his eye trouble © Getty Images
Was there a point where you realised your eyesight had really deteriorated, or was it too gradual?
It was gradual. But under lights, dark days - I just didn't enjoy it. I didn't enjoy fielding either. I dropped a couple of catches - I say drop but I didn't even pick them up, to be fair - in England in 2015, I think. It had got to a stage where you didn't want the ball to come to you, which is not a great place to be when you're in the field. Unless you're having consistent tests on your eyes, I guess you just think… people drop catches. But looking back, I dropped catches that I'd normally gobble up or at least get a hand to. On this tour in England, I didn't even lay a hand on a couple of them.
You were aware at that stage there was a growth in your eye, though?
But I had no idea when I'd need to do something about it. It wasn't until I went to the eye specialist in Brisbane after the Gabba Test in 2015 that they said: "It's not great. You're going to need an operation in time, but how long from now, we don't know." So I had a test and they gave me some eye drops. The other thing was the eye was getting quite dry, so they gave me special eye drops, and I got 290 in the next game. I don't know if the eye drops had anything to do with that. The sun was also shining in Perth so that was probably not a bad thing.
After you had a surgery did you notice quite a dramatic change?
Two weeks after the surgery I had throwdowns with the trainer and I saw the ball swing from the hand for the first time. At the start of my innings for a couple of years, I was even more fidgety than normal. I just kept missing balls that I felt I should be at least getting in behind. I was playing and missing and was very late on it. I was still able to score runs, but your confidence in your first 10 to 20 balls was not as good as it should have been. Once I saw the ball swing from the hand, I felt like a 20-year-old again.
It seems like a crazy thing to happen to a professional sportsman. Does it feel like that?
It does. A lot of players now get eye tests. The other thing also is that eyes are crazy things. My other eye was so dominant, and it had to be to compensate. I could still see the ball, just not as well as I used to.
"It was nice to have Martin [Crowe] to give you his honest appraisal and not have any emotional bias. He'd look at me from a mental and technical point of view. That was invaluable to my career"
You became New Zealand's highest ODI run scorer earlier this year. You're not far from breaking the Test record as well. Did these kinds of numbers ever drive you?
I guess you need little goals and motivations along the way. That's one of my goals - to get to 7000 Test runs and to beat Stephen Fleming (New Zealand's current highest Test run scorer). That's something Martin was always quite big on - setting yourself goals. The long-term goal that he set was to get to 7000 and beat Flem. But it's not about stopping there either. Kane's not far away also. It'll be nice to give him something to chase down in the future, both in Tests and ODIs. He'll probably do it about a month after I get it.
He's breaking down records pretty quickly. What's it like watching him develop?
We knew that for us to be a consistent side you need world-class players, and Kane is definitely that. It's not only his runs, but also teaching the other guys how to go about it. I'm sure there's times when I've taught him stuff, but at other times he's taught me a lot of things. In cricket it's about having a presence. I'm sure in a lot of opposition scouting meetings, they'll be scouting Kane and how to get him out. Which is not a bad thing, if they are spending more time on him and not on others. I love batting with him. We complement each other. As a captain - the way he's taken over the team in the last couple of years - it's not easy, but he's done a fantastic job.
Any examples of something you've picked up from him?
Yeah, we're both very good runners between the wickets (laughs) [there had been talk during the World Cup that Taylor and Williamson cause heart attacks when running together]. But backing new players to come into the team and do well - I think that makes it an easier transition for those players. While being true to yourself, there's a lot to learn about the way he trains and the way he goes about things. Cricket's a technical game, but mentally - that's probably the biggest thing myself and others can learn from Kane.
"That Lord's game on July 14 will go down in history, but we can look back at that whole campaign with pride. It was just a great campaign that all 15 guys will never forget"
© IDI/Getty Images
"That Lord's game on July 14 will go down in history, but we can look back at that whole campaign with pride. It was just a great campaign that all 15 guys will never forget" © IDI/Getty Images
So the running between the wickets issue with you and Kane - did that catch you off guard when you were made aware of it?
The one thing with this team is that they pick up on things very quickly and they'll let you know about it, in a good way. It's a bit of a going joke in the team. And there's enough articles written about it to try and understand it as well. When you bat with someone as long as we do, there's going to be the odd run-out. I'll probably laugh about it more when I've retired.
Has there ever been something in the press that's truly caught you off guard?
Nothing jumps to mind. When you're doing well as a professional sportsman and you read positive articles, don't get too comfortable, because you're only a bad performance away from a bad article about you. Maybe at the end of the day, don't read them at all.
Is that your approach?
No, when you come to another country especially, you've got a lot of downtime as cricketers. There's only so much Netflix you can watch. In terms of articles, if you don't read it, there's going to be family members who tell you about people who've said good or bad things about you. You take it for what it is.
You've scored a lot of runs, but you've played in teams where there are other superstars. Right now it's Kane. Before that it was Brendon McCullum at times. Have you ever felt overlooked?
If you're doing your family, your friends and your country proud, and you're doing your best, you can't help what other people write about you. As a cricketer, I'm just trying to continually improve. At the end of my career I might think about things differently. But Kane is an amazing batter and his record speaks for himself. I'm just happy playing for New Zealand.
So, completely the opposite from earlier on in your career, a lot of people are saying this is the best New Zealand team that's ever played. Does it feel like you've played in a team that went from rock bottom to the top?
I think it's the most consistent side I've played in. The best team? Just like anything other, teams go through cycles as well. I think we have the best depth we've ever had. Our fast bowlers and our spinners - we've picked four spinners to come to Sri Lanka. But then I don't think it's for me to discuss how well we compare. We've had some very good teams in New Zealand - the team of the '80s, for example. All we know is that this is up there with the most consistent sides.
But having been through tougher times in your career, it must feel different to be part of this team?
The camaraderie of this team is the best I've been part of as well - the way everyone respects each other and gets along with each other. That's testament to the way we play. We don't always agree on things, but we're all going in the right direction. That week in England - with the semi-final and the final - I'll never forget the players that were there. We played for each other. That definitely helped our performance. Yes, we do have world-class players, but it's funny what happens when you play as a team.
A few weeks on from that final, can you walk me through the stages of trying to process that result?
I don't think I can. There are so many different ones.
Immediately after the final, what were the feelings?
We finished the Super Over and we went out on the field to shake hands. A couple of hours afterwards, it hadn't sunk in. But then at the start of the Test at Galle was the only time I haven't thought about it. It was a World Cup final, but it's like anything. If you get a close game in a series or something, you think about it for a week afterwards. But this just happened to be a great game in the World Cup final, with a Super Over. I look back on it with fond memories. It would have been nice to have won.
It wasn't until we got home to New Zealand that you knew what the effect was. I had a holiday with my family in France, just to get away from it afterwards, and had a lot of people were coming up - English, Kiwis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans - saying what a fantastic game it was, and that it was something that they'd never forget. And when we got home, people would come up and tell you their stories of how they'd watched the game - the lack of sleep and how they got through the next day. With the time zones, Kiwis would have been up all night. They'd all correct you when you said, "Sorry we lost the game." They'd stop you right there and go: "No, you didn't lose the game, you tied the game."
I was surprised how many people said that. I've been fortunate enough to play in two World Cup finals, in Melbourne and at Lord's. You couldn't ask for two better places, given the history of the grounds. Just disappointed we couldn't lift the trophy.
"We knew that for us to be a consistent side you need world-class players, and Kane is definitely that. It's not only his runs, but also teaching the other guys how to go about it"
© Getty Images
"We knew that for us to be a consistent side you need world-class players, and Kane is definitely that. It's not only his runs, but also teaching the other guys how to go about it" © Getty Images
Has it got to the stage where the disappointment has faded into being grateful that you were part of that game?
Definitely. The first two weeks you're thinking about what you could have done differently and all those "what ifs". But life's not there, and you get on with it. That group of players was able to do something no one gave us a chance to do, and we were able to prove people wrong. That Lord's game on July 14 will go down in history, but we can look back at that whole campaign with pride. The two-day semi-final - being not out overnight in a one-day match was interesting. The West Indies match in Manchester, and the South Africa and Bangladesh games - it was just a great campaign that all 15 guys will never forget.
Finally, do you have a favourite campaign of the two runs to the final?
The 2019 one, definitely. I never thought there would be a more interesting game than that match at Eden Park against South Africa - the 2015 semi-final. But then the final at Lord's blew that completely out of the water.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.