The boy who would run out to take covers off the pitch at Lord’s before games, the child who would sell scorecards at the famed arena, the teenager who would gulp his breakfast at a nearby hostel and rush out to the most famous cricket stadium in the world — he will now play a World Cup final at the same ground on Sunday. Cricketing dreams don’t get more romantic than that. Ross Taylor is that lucky man.
In 2002, when he was 18 years old, Taylor was sent to MCC Young Cricketers, the club based at Lord’s. Every year, the most promising New Zealand cricketer would get that honour. Martin Crowe did it for a year, Ken Rutherford, and Taylor. They were known as YCs.
Clive Radley, a Middlesex cricketing legend who was the manager of MCC then, remembers picking up Taylor from the Heathrow airport. “I was taking him to the MCC hostel where the other kids were, but thought ‘let me show him Lord’s on the way’,” he told The Sunday Express.
Taylor was smitten by everything there — the old grey building that still houses the groundsman (Lord’s provides a house within the stadium and private-school tuition fees for the groundsman’s children to this day), the green grass, the scenic setting, and, of course, that classic old pavilion.
“He loved it and insisted that he have a batting net right away,” said Radley. When Taylor arrived that morning, there were some cricketers practising in the nets and he wanted a hit.
“He wanted to hit the ball over the clubhouse, and I think he did. Back then, all he had was a hitting game. He just loved belting the ball. I must say, although I realised that he had that (hitting) talent, because he didn’t have the defensive game, I didn’t think he would turn out to be such a good and prolific batsman for New Zealand in Tests and ODIs. He has been marvellous for them for so many years now, hasn’t he,” he said.
Besides his hitting ability, Radley also remembers how powerful young Taylor was. “Thighs like tree trunks,” he said.
It’s been quite a career, with highs and lows. Taylor became the captain, only to lose the confidence of coach Mike Hesson, and took a break after stepping down. However, he returned to the game fully charged and played alongside Brendon McCullum, the man who replaced him as captain.
It wasn’t easy; Taylor met sports psychologists to re-tune himself to the task. He was a protégé of Crowe, who was very fond of him. In fact, Crowe burnt his New Zealand blazer in protest when Taylor lost the captaincy. McCullum was shaken by that, but Taylor returned to lend his support to him. Now, Taylor is Williamson’s go-to man on the field.
As part of the MCC team, the overseas player was usually the best of the lot. “Our MCC team would be a lot of aspiring cricketers but the one from New Zealand would be the best young talent in that country. So they would be the best player. Like Martin Crowe was — what a player he was,” recalled Radley.
Taylor may not be in that bracket, but has worked hard to develop an all-round game that has enabled him to carry on for so many years. Back then, the MCC senior team would play all around the country. And when there was an injury or some such setback discovered late in the evening on the eve of a game, they would ask Radley to send a bright young talent.
Also read | Look how far they’ve come
“Usually, it would be Ross. And so, he would go to Paddington station early morning, catch a train, and rush out to Birmingham or wherever the game was, and play. Experiences such as that have moulded him. He was a very pleasant young kid, quiet and well-behaved like most Kiwis are — and the best thing is that he has remained that way,” said Radley.
From his hostel at Hampstead, Taylor would catch bus number 46 to Lord’s, carrying his bat to develop his game.
Six years later, in 2008, he returned as a New Zealand cricketer to play a game at Lord’s. “It felt so strange, that this wonderful ground was actually once my home. Even now, when I train at the Nursery Ground or walk through the Long Room, I get goosebumps,” Taylor had said earlier.
A YC now has a chance to make a special day at his old home the most memorable day of his cricket career.