7 Mar 2017

Why Ross Taylor may be NZ’s greatest batsman

11:43 am on 7 March 2017

Once called a dirty slogger, the stats tell a different story.


Ross Taylor celebrates.

Ross Taylor's tongue comes out celebrating his century against South Africa during the second ODI in February. Photo: Marty MELVILLE / AFP

Shying away from the spotlight is easy when you follow Kane Williamson in to bat. He’s the only Black Cap talked about as one of the world’s best. His technique is robotic and his heart rate never leaves first gear. Williamson averages 50 in tests and a scratch under 46 in one dayers. He’s two shy of Martin Crowe’s 17 test centuries in 25 fewer innings. At 26, he’s ready to take Crowe’s throne. Records are a formality. Can we just to get to him being our Greatest Of All Time?

Then there’s our number four. Two weeks ago, Ross Taylor helped drag the Black Caps into their one day series against South Africa with a near faultless 102*. He cut, he nudged, he noodled and slashed. There were few dot balls as he kept the scoreboard ticking with ones and twos. Only eight boundaries, but almost a-run-a-ball. In the process, he became the fastest New Zealander to reach 6000 one day runs and helped crack his seemingly invulnerable opponents’ 12-game winning streak.

Ross Taylor runs.

Ross Taylor sets off between wickets against Bangladesh in January. Photo: Marty Melville / AFP

A few days earlier he was a century-maker in Hamilton and set-up a series win against Australia. A few days later he returned to the Tron and played sidekick to Martin Guptill’s superheroic 180*.

There’s no definition of greatness in the sporting dictionary. But assuming Crowe is, or was, top dog, there’s an argument he’s now been surpassed. Debate about the strength of their opponents - Crowe faced Akram, Marshall and Thompson, Taylor faced Steyn, Anderson and Muralitharan - or their technique is best left for living rooms or smoky bars.

Average-wise, Williamson’s got them both beat hands-down.

Test batting average

1. Kane Williamson: 50.07

2. Ross Taylor: 46.99

3. Martin Crowe: 45.36

ODI batting average

1. Kane Williamson: 45.91

2. Ross Taylor: 43.57

3. Martin Crowe: 38.55

But wait, don’t play the walk-off music just yet. Let’s look at the body of work.

Test runs (innings)

1. Ross Taylor: 6015 (145)

2. Martin Crowe: 5444 (131)

3. Kane Williamson: 4807 (106)

ODI runs (innings)

1. Ross Taylor: 6144 (169)

2. Martin Crowe: 4704 (140)

3. Kane Williamson: 4362 (105)

Test centuries

1. Martin Crowe: 17

2. Ross Taylor: 16

3. Kane Williamson: 15

ODI centuries

1. Ross Taylor: 17

2. Kane Williamson: 8

3. Martin Crowe: 4

High Score

1. Martin Crowe: 299 vs Sri Lanka (Wellington)

2. Ross Taylor: 290 vs Australia (Perth)

3. Kane Williamson: 242* vs Sri Lanka (Wellington)

In terms of other contenders, this discounts Stephen Fleming. The country’s top heat pump salesman amassed a record 7172 runs in tests and 8037 runs in one dayers, but averaged 40.06 and 32.40 respectively. He was an assured leader of weak teams, but greatness is defined by more than longevity. There are other greats too, but none who averaged 40 and scored at least 3000 runs.

Has Taylor’s greatness been overlooked? Does he not get the credit he deserves because he plays in the Kane Williamson era? Perhaps some still associate him with ill-advised swipes over mid-wicket or his doomed spell as captain. He was mentored by Crowe, but only after the legend called him a “dirty slogger”. If there was no Kane Williamson, Taylor would be his successor.

In the one day format, Taylor’s best mate Martin Guptill has a standout average of 43.66 and is the only player to have hit at least 180 on three occasions. He also has arguably the greatest ODI innings of all time to his name - 237* in a World Cup quarter-final - but his test record is crap (29.38) so he’s out.

A wise-head in the office said: “yes, but Taylor’s often had those long drops in form”. Not really. His worst period came last year in South Africa and India, where his test average was 11.5 over nine innings. He struggled with his eyesight at the time, and took a few weeks off at the end of the year for surgery. He hit form again during the visiting tours of Pakistan and Bangladesh (65.4).

His conversion rate is not bad either:

Test conversion rate (50/100)

1. Martin Crowe: 18, 17 (48.57%)

2. Kane Williamson: 25, 15 (37.5%)

3. Ross Taylor: 27, 16 (37.2%)

Stephen Fleming: 46, 9 (16.36%)

ODI conversion rate (50/100)

1. Ross Taylor: 33, 17 (34%)

2. Kane Williamson: 29, 8 (21.62%)

3. Martin Crowe: 34, 4 (10.53%)

Martin Guptill: 32, 12 (27.27%)

Brendon McCullum: 32, 5 (13.51%)

Like Williamson, it is difficult to grasp Luteru Taylor’s character. Both say exactly what you expect them to in public. That may be thanks to impeccable media training or a natural stoicism, or even just politeness. Crowe’s nickname for him was “Too Easy”. Taylor’s Samoan background also makes him a rare Polynesian success story in the world of cricket whites. His very public ousting as captain in favour of McCullum may have ruined lesser men. He opened up a little then, but it felt like he mostly kept his opinion private. When he lifts his bat to celebrate, he sticks his tongue out. He does it for his family, but he could easily be emulating the GOAT of another sport, Michael Jordan.

New Zealand cricketer Ross Taylor is upset.

Photo: Unknown

This year could be crucial to Taylor’s legacy. Next up are three test matches against South Africa. He turns 33 on the first day in Dunedin - a birthday ton? His form is right, but his average against the Proteas suffers massively in comparison to other teams (24.22). In fact, he’s not scored 50 in 12 attempts. Against Australia he averages 50.

Test average against Australia (innings)

1. Ross Taylor: 49.82 (18)

2. Kane Williamson: 49.38 (14)

3. Martin Crowe: 48.26 (29)

Test average against India (innings)

1. Kane Williamson: 37.11 (17)

2. Martin Crowe: 35.16 (6)

3. Ross Taylor: 34 (22)

Crowe’s average against the dominant West Indian team in the 1980s is damn impressive too (45.33 in 13 innings).

Ross Taylor swipes.

Ross Taylor swipes at a delivery in a World T20 match in 2016. Photo: Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP

Breaking Crowe’s mark of 17 test centuries before Williamson would boost Taylor’s credit rating. Bet on him topping Fleming’s 7172 test runs before he retires. He’s already got more ODI centuries than any Black Cap. Bet on him scoring a few more in his last 3-5 years. Fewer if, like McCullum, he gets sick of the constant touring and being away from his young family. Kane Williamson is poised to become New Zealand’s greatest batsman (and cricketer), but for now, bet on Taylor being number one.

*The Black Caps' first test against South Africa begins at University Oval in Dunedin tomorrow.