It is easy. Just walk out to the crease. See the ball. Hit the ball. Do not give your wicket away. Take your team to safety. And voila, you are a legend. It all seems so easy.
For individuals seated across the twenty-two yards in a cricket stadium, that is what cricket is all about. A visual aspect; wherein a fearless batsman smacks away an even more fearless fast bowler in the fastest wicket in the world. How tough can it really be? Not very, you think.
Now zoom in closely on the batsman’s eyes as he awaits the delivery. His eyes, fixed. His head, still. Deeper down, one may observe the amalgamation of his struggles and toils- his good days and bad days, all waving around, seconds before the red cherry is to be bowled at 150kmph. He thinks of the team’s needs. Should he attack or should he defend so that a mistimed shot can be avoided? He thinks of his family, sitting comfortably in the box, whose hopes he now bears. He thinks of his own form. A bad run has commenced and this upcoming delivery should not be the one that extends it.
Does he really belong? If he fails, will he be ousted forever, thus ending the years and days spent sweating it out in the backyards and cricket fields? Will the world care when he is lost in the wilderness; a talented youngster taking up his spot? With fears and burdens galore, he gets ready to face the bowler. It all really seems so easy.
He enters with a stoic face and exits with one that will betray the emotions running through him. Angry. Frustrated. Hyper. Irritated. Jubilant. Ecstatic. What Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor showcased today was all of that and much more. He was angry at himself; frustrated that a player who had once been touted as the finest in the country would now scramble for runs. He was irritated at what he had put himself through. Sleepless nights, nothing-to-look-forward-to mornings, and contemplative evenings when he considered walking away from the game for good.
But today, more than all of that, he was silently relieved. The Big Seventeen had been breached and every New Zealander knew what that meant or how special it was. The late Martin Crowe ended his Test career with 17 Test tons and if ever there had been a player who was worthy of surpassing that, it was always Taylor.
His cover drives were a beauty and his swipes over mid-wicket unfaltering. His shots on the on-side were aesthetic and the ones on the off-side even more. He was a shy recluse, much unlike the other flamboyant players in his team, but he was always charismatic. In Taylor, we had a figure who wanted to just bat on and on and on.
But soon the cruel battle with inconsistencies began. His techniques were found faulty and his eyesight went for a beating. His power-hitting declined and so did his stature in the Indian Premier League. He was no more a “must-have” in the team. Teams could do without him and this was painfully reminded to him by the emergence of young Kane Williamson.
Taylor was good, but Williamson even better. Taylor was technical; Williamson, flawless. He was integral in the squad. The latter, a necessity.
Faced with his failing prowess, Taylor erupted. The introvert entered his cocoon even deeper, pledging to dwell therein forever. He had just been discarded as the captain of the team and he bled. It was possibly the first time ever that the strong-willed character showed signs of containing emotions. He was hurt and he did not hide it. His skills were being questioned; his potential trampled upon.
He turned to his mentor Crowe for support. He spent days and nights crying to him. It was met with a patient ear; Crowe determined to remove the player from his miseries. When the world lost track of Taylor, Crowe egged him on; inspiring him to scale the mark of seventeen tons. It seemed tough way back in the December of 2012, but it was not impossible. He just had to believe and start loving the game of cricket even fiercer than he had when he was a young boy growing up in the fields of New Zealand.
Nine hundred in the last four years with two double hundreds since then, Taylor has risen back. These numbers might seem ordinary when compared to the insane batting records of Steven Smith or Virat Kohli, or even his teammate Williamson, but when viewed in totality, keeping in mind the mental slump that had converged on him, it is extraordinary.
As he cried inconsolably whilst walking silently across the Seddon Park in Hamilton, where many a childhood memories remain, acknowledging the cheers from supporters, he could not help but remember his idol Crowe who had inspired him in unknown ways to achieve this feat.
His promise to him on getting a triple ton and not stopping after he gets to seventeen will need to be fulfilled, but as of today, the figure of Crowe must be smiling as his prodigy finally started believing in himself. Again.