The date was late November 2012, the setting the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo, and the occasion the second cricket test against Sri Lanka.
The Black Caps were looking to salvage something from a tour that had not gone well. Three losses in the limited over series and a 10 wicket beating in the first test meant that captain Ross Taylor and his team were seeking redemption.
An unlikely win was achieved and the captain led by example with scores of 142 and 74. This batting and his astute handling of the bowling attack won him the man of the match award and the team came home with their heads held up if not high.
However within two weeks, Taylor was no longer captain and opting to take a break from the team.
In an unmitigated public relations disaster the New Zealand Cricket Council (NZC) had not only divided the team on the eve of the tour to South Africa, but also lost its best player and become the laughing stock of the cricketing world.
Prior to the first Sri Lankan test, the knives were already out for the skipper.
“They [coach MikeHesson, manager Mike Sandle and assistant coach Bob Carter] pretty much said that I wasn’t good enough to captain the team. I was pretty stunned and I didn’t really know what to say,” Taylor said. “In no way was he [Hesson] implying for one form of the game, he was implying for the whole of it.”
NZC claimed this was not so. On Friday Mike Hesson and chief executive David White at last publically revealed their cunning plan, stating that they always intended Ross Taylor would remain as test captain, but a new skipper would be appointed for the Twenty 20 and one day games.
The mystery is, why didn’t they tell Taylor about their scheme to split the leadership and why had there been so much rumour in the media before making the announcement?
Not surprisingly the humiliated Taylor declined to retain the test captaincy.
Reaction to the ham-fisted handling of the captaincy issue was swift and damning.
- NZ Cricket has shown neither grace nor skill. Journalist Ben Stanley
- Over the last week NZC destroyed the soul of Ross Taylor, easily our best player. Cricket great Martin Crowe
- Ross Taylor was not the greatest captain but deserved better. Former Black Caps one day fast bowler Jonathan Millmow
- Charged with handling a delicate matter it’s (NZC) gone about things like Dotcom in a china shop” Sunday Times columnist Richard Boock.
Taylor a worthy captain?
There has been criticism of Taylor’s captaincy and a record of 6 wins out of 20 in One Day Internationals has left New Zealand in ninth place in the world. Also prior to the win in Sri Lanka there had been five test losses in a row.
However, can the skipper be blamed for the loss of form of players like Guptill and McCullum?
Taylor himself during his captaincy has averaged 49.83, by far the best Black Caps batting average.
He had been captain for just over a year and by his own admission had made mistakes. But there are no in-service courses in captaincy and as Ritchie McCaw and Stephen Fleming will testify, you get it wrong sometimes and have to learn on the job.
With better handing by the coaches, Taylor might well have improved in these ways:
- on-field communication with players
- ability to react quickly to the need for bowling changes
- capacity for keeping the pressure on the opposition when they are in trouble.
The arch villain: Mike Hesson?
Coach Mike Hesson, who sometimes resembles a studious college boy, is clearly the villain of the piece in this sorry saga which has lead to Ross Taylor leaving the captaincy and the team.
According to Taylor their relationship was strained from the start: I gave him a lot of support and didn’t really get a lot of support back. Hesson denies this.
However, for most cricket followers, the DomPost cartoonist hit the spot in showing Hesson as the small, grim umpire raising his finger to dismiss the large, disconsolate Taylor.
The new man: needs to lead by example
Hesson is a friend of the new captain Brendon McCullum so their cricketing relationship should be sound.
The latter is a more vocal and confident leader, and probably reads the game better than Taylor. However his form with the bat over the last year has been inconsistent, and fans have often been dismayed by his poor judgement and soft dismissals.
By his own admission he needs to step up: “Ultimately, we’re judged on our performances…” McCullum said. In recent times his performances and those of other players “haven’t been where we want them to be”.
A big ask against the best
The Black Caps now need to put the leadership fiasco behind them and focus on the daunting quest ahead.
They face South Africa, the Number One cricketing nation in the world, fresh from a test series victory over Australia.
The Proteas will be very hard to beat on their own turf and the task will not be any easier with New Zealand’s best batsman staying at home.