“It was a forthright, thoughtful innings — one his mentor would have been proud of”
Former New Zealand captain, the late Martin Crowe, had some measure of success against Shane Warne. Wary of the big turn the Australian elicited, the thoughtful Crowe devised a method of combatting him. “I’m going to pick your legspinner and smash it with a sweep, a pull or a cut,” the batsman decided. “Because my idea was: I had a bat that was four inches wide and he spun the ball 12 inches so there is no point playing it with a vertical bat, so I used the length of my bat and thought that I had him covered. In fact, there was twice as much chance of me hitting him than him getting me.”
Crowe’s idea, of course, was not foolproof, and so Warne did account for his wicket on a few occasions. But it appeared to have worked well enough to satisfy the New Zealand batting legend.
It might have even worked well enough for Crowe to have passed it on to others. New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor was very close to Crowe. So close, in fact, that Crowe sometimes referred to him as his “son”. So close that Crowe burned his New Zealand blazer in protest following what he thought was an unfair treatment to Taylor from the New Zealand cricket authorities.
Taylor would have idolized Crowe, the man long regarded as his country’s greatest batsman. He’d have been content to learn at the master’s feet, soaking up every bit of advice imparted by Crowe and trying and mimic the methods he thought helpful to his own game. It is therefore likely that at some point Taylor would have embraced the ideas Crowe espoused on playing the big spinning ball.
Eight for 41 and six for 143. These are Yasir Shah’s figures for the second Test against New Zealand in Dubai. His 14/184 in the game are also the second-best figures in Tests for Pakistan, behind those of former allrounder and current Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, who captured 14/116 in Lahore in 1982 against Sri Lanka.
Shah’s figures in the game were just rewards for his exceptional bowling. It was leg spin of the highest class, bowling reminiscent of Shane Warne at his exquisite best.
Pakistan coach Micky Arthur maintains that it was some of the best leg-spin bowling he’d ever seen: “That first innings think there was a spell of about a half an hour of the best leg-spin bowling you will ever see. Fourteen wickets in a Test match is superb.”
Dismissed for 90 and 312, New Zealand lost by an innings and 16 runs. As the scores suggest, New Zealand’s first innings was a total debacle. Only Kane Williamson seemed to have a clue as to how to play Shah.
Taylor was dismissed by a beauty in the first innings, an almost unplayable delivery, one that would have defeated the best batsmen in the game. It drifted in, landed close to the line of leg stump, before darting past the outside of his studious forward defensive bat and striking his offstump.
Nobody should be blamed for getting out to a delivery such as that. It’d be like faulting Mike Gatting for losing his wicket to the “ball of the century,” or Chanderpaul for being dismissed by another Warne special in Sydney in 1996 — deliveries the bowler said were probably the best of his career.
The New Zealander’s put up a much better showing in the second innings. Shah was probably slightly less lethal but the way Taylor played must have also made a world difference, especially since most of his 82 runs came on the Yasir Shah dominated the third day, after New Zealand were made to follow-on.
Taylor went to bed on 49, made off only 53 deliveries and with six fours and a six. Significantly, all his boundaries, including one off pacer Mohammad Abbas, were the result of sweep, cut or pull shots. He is a player often partial to the cut, yet it is doubtful he’s ever scored such a large percentage of his runs from cross-batted strokes.
In the first innings, he was unfortunate to have received such an auspicious delivery second ball. Allowed something of a start in the second innings he quickly sought to carry the fight to his side’s first innings destroyer. Five of his boundaries were hit off Shah, including a sweetly struck pull high over midwicket for six.
Taylor, it appeared, had taken Crowe’s lesson on playing Warne to heart, and was content to sweep, cut and pull Shah at every opportunity. He was intent on avoiding, it appeared, presenting a vertical four-inch bat (4.25 inches in actuality), as his mentor explained, to a ball turning as much as Shah was turning it.
Resuming on the fourth day, Taylor managed only one more boundary. Pakistan’s field placings ensured that the batsman found it much more difficult reaching the ropes. He still swept and cut and pulled with alacrity, but was not allowed to score as quickly as he did on the third day. The 33 additional runs he made took all of 75 additional deliveries, a marked reduction of his scoring rate of the day before.
Not all that surprisingly, Taylor fell attempting to sweep. He had lived by the cross-batted shot and had also perished by it. His 82 runs, 18 short of what would have been a well-deserved century, were well made and was the innings mainly responsible for his side’s much improved second innings performance. It was a forthright, thoughtful innings — one his mentor would have been proud of.