Thrown in the deep end: BlackCaps hero returns for tough start to WTC title defence

Author
Niall Anderson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Nov 2021, 2:16PM
Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson after clinching the World Test Championship final victory over India earlier this year. (Photo / Photosport)
Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson after clinching the World Test Championship final victory over India earlier this year. (Photo / Photosport)

Thrown in the deep end: BlackCaps hero returns for tough start to WTC title defence

Author
Niall Anderson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Nov 2021, 2:16PM

Five months ago, Ross Taylor completed one of the greatest accomplishments in his cricket career, hitting the winning runs as New Zealand won the World Test Championship. 

He hasn't played a game since. 

After what will be 154 days without any competitive cricket, Taylor will finally make his return – against the same opponent - for first of two tests against India, starting Thursday afternoon in Kanpur. 

Taylor's winter in the wilderness has been caused by several factors. First he wasn't selected for any of the Twenty20 tours, and was strategically rested for the ultimately-cancelled ODIs against Pakistan. Then, as he prepared to return with Central Districts in the Plunket Shield, Covid-19 hit his home town of Hamilton, with border restrictions making him unavailable. 

As a result, he will now be thrown in deep end in one of the toughest challenges in cricket, and will be carrying added responsibility in a side missing Devon Conway, Colin de Grandhomme and Trent Boult. The restrictions of being in a bubble has also meant having to face a barrage of balls from the Kiwi spinners in the nets, as opposed to the useful variety of the usual Indian net bowlers. 

If there's anyone who can handle coming into a test without match practice, it's Taylor, and the 37-year-old is trying to accentuate the positives as he returns on the biggest stage. 

"It's been a bit strange not playing cricket for as long as I have – I couldn't remember the last time I've gone five months without playing cricket of any capacity. 

"I've really enjoyed spending time at home with the kids, but when you're coming towards the end of your career you want to play as much cricket as you can as well. In saying that, if there's ever a time in my career to deal with this, it's definitely now, going with the 'best when fresh' type of mentality." 

To succeed, Taylor will have to conquer the Indian spinners. 

In home conditions, the spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel have a combined 470 wickets at an average of 20.97, a daunting challenge for a Kiwi batting lineup that only has three players with experience playing tests in Indian conditions. 

"Spin plays a major part, the new ball can do a bit, but can also be the easiest time to score sometimes," Taylor, one of three survivors, said. 

"India have world-class spinners and know how to set batters up in these conditions. We need to pick up length as quick as possible, and trust your defence. When there are a lot of men around the bat, it can be an intimidating place to start your inning. Getting through those first 10-20 balls is going to be crucial. 

"How we play them is going to dictate how the series is going to go." 

History says that India are worthy favourites – New Zealand haven't won a test in the country since 1988 – and Taylor acknowledges that the BlackCaps' world No 1 ranking means little in these conditions. 

"Any time you play India at home, you're always going to be the underdog regardless of whether you're the world No 1. 

"They're resting a couple of players but they're still a formidable side, they know these conditions really well and the way we adapt is going to be the key." 

Underdogs, yes, but also world champions – and this test marks the start of New Zealand's second WTC campaign, with the BlackCaps scheduled to face India, Bangladesh, South Africa, England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka over the next year. 

With the tests against India, Pakistan and England coming away from home, it's a tougher schedule than in the inaugural tournament, and Taylor knows repeating as champions could even be more difficult than getting to the top of the mountain in the first place. 

But he also knows there is no better place to send a message to the rest of the cricketing world. 

"We can say we're world champions now, but it's something different trying to retain it. 

"I couldn't think of a harder place to start."