THE SLOG-SWEEP has been forever synonymous with Ross Taylor’s batting. There’s hardly been a Test innings that Taylor has headlined where the slog-sweep hasn’t co-starred copiously. So much so that if you were asked to close your eyes and imagine Taylor with a bat in hand, you’re likely to see the stocky right-hander down one knee, slapping a ball with a horizontal blade. It doesn’t really matter where the ball has pitched or who has bowled it. He has slog-swept both Muttiah Muralitharan and Shoaib Akhtar with the same audacity. But when he went down on his haunches to R Ashwin on Tuesday, you just knew that it was out of desperation, the cricketing equivalent of a drowning man clutching at a straw. Talking of desperation, his colleague Martin Guptill too was in an equally desperate state of mind. The failure of the pair was as baffling as it was inexplicable, much travelled as they are to the subcontinent. This was Taylor’s third Test tour to India, not to forget the World Cups, World T20s and the seven seasons of IPL he’s a part of. But he looked more at sea and out of his depth than many of the first-timers. Guptill himself was on his second Test tour and was part of Mumbai Indians this season as a late replacement. Guptill was a tad unfortunate on occasions, being bowled off after a ball ricocheted off his arm and being run out at the non-striker’s end. It was to Taylor and Guptill that they were looking at for inspiration, which though never came and has been one of the major factors for their 3-0 surrender. Returning to Taylor’s attempted slog of
Ashwin, he missed the length and was bowled. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Ashwin rubbed it in by waving him goodbye as if to say, “that was easy.” It has been that easy for Ashwin and the Indian bowlers to get rid of New Zealand’s most senior batsman during this series. His stay at the wicket-brief and manic-in Indore pretty much summed up both his series and state of mind.
While Taylor still has a healthy Test average of 46.24, a closer look at his numbers show a majority of those runs have come against bowling attacks of a lesser calibre, especially in recent years. Yes, his 290 at Perth last year does stand out. But another thing about his big knocks is that out of 15 Test centuries it’s only on four occasions that he’s walked out to bat with the Kiwis having lost early wickets-before the 20th over in fact. So Taylor is a No.4 who is at his best when the ball is older and when the top-order has stabilized the innings. In India, he’s had to walk out to bat rather early except in the first innings in Indore with Guptill and Tom Latham putting on over 100 on the board.
The man responsible for Taylor being exposed early is his longstanding teammate and close friend, Guptill. Like Taylor, the lanky opener has been around New Zealand cricket for nearly a decade. But still the New Zealand selectors haven’t been able to make their mind up over whether he’s a predominantly limited-overs batsman or someone who they see as a stable opener at the top. Not like he’s ever filled them with any confidence in whites. Like Taylor, Guptill has rarely missed out on feasting on attacks featuring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe — though his latest century came against Sri Lanka last year at home. Not surprisingly, both Guptill and Taylor filled up their pockets in Zimbabwe two months ago. Taylor’s scores read 122 not out, 173 not out, 124 not out and 67 not out. That’s 486 runs without being dismissed. Guptill made a 40 and 87 in two out of his three innings.