By: Chinmay Vaidya
85 from 107 balls in a win over Kenya in 2007. 131 not out from 124 balls in a win over Pakistan in 2011. It never happened in 2015 and it likely won't happen in the upcoming 2019 World Cup in England.
I'm talking, of course, about the infamous "Ross Taylor Game". Taylor has long been dubbed a star in New Zealand's lineup, but he rarely consistently delivered strong performances, especially in World Cups. He would pop off occasionally, usually only for one match. That match would then be called the "Ross Taylor Game".
But in the 2015 World Cup, something strange happened. The "Ross Taylor Game" never showed up. Taylor strung together foundational performances of 56, 42, 30 and then 40 in a loss in the final against Australia. He never exploded to create the magical match-winning innings to keep his streak going. For New Zealand, it obviously wants Taylor to be more consistent and anchor the middle order. The last two years of cricket offer a glimpse into what Taylor can do and how it benefits the Kiwis in the 2019 World Cup.
The methodology is straightforward. Taylor has played 203 career innings and I've taken his career average, century rate, half-century rate and strike rate from those innings. In the last two years, Taylor has been remarkably consistent even as he hits age 35. I've compared his numbers in 41 innings from 2017-2019 (before the World Cup) to his career numbers. Here's what we see. Average and strike rate are up first. The career numbers are on the left and the numbers from the last two years are on the right. The graph for average is on the left and the graph for strike rate is on the right.
As you can see, Taylor's strike rate hasn't changed. His aggressiveness isn't on display, but his average has climbed by almost 15 runs. It's the difference between a solid start and converting that start into something bigger. If Taylor keeps averaging 53.65 runs, that allows the batsmen around him in New Zealand's middle order to fire at will. Taylor used to be the aggressor, but his role as an anchor will be more favorable for the Kiwis this summer. Here are his century and half-century conversion rates from his career and from his last two years. The career numbers are on the left and the numbers from 2017-19 are on the right. The century rate graph is on the left and the half-century rate graph is on the right.
As the data shows, Taylor isn't really converting the big scores. However, he's scoring 50s at a much better rate due to his newfound role as an anchor rather than aggressor. Taylor is not playing the big shots or looking for quick runs in this setting. He's building the foundation for others around him to pick up the run rate. In New Zealand's middle order filled with all-rounders, Taylor provides a great floor and a safety valve. He's learned how to become an anchor and it bodes well for the Blackcaps at the 2019 World Cup.
Unfortunately, this means we likely won't get a "Ross Taylor Game" from the middle-order batsman at the Cup. I'm sure fans would love to see Taylor fire off a blazing century while dusting opposing bowlers in the process. However, that approach usually has come back to bite New Zealand later in the tournament in the past.
This time around, Taylor won't be swinging for the fences recklessly. He's going to be an anchor, supporting the rest of New Zealand's batsmen as they look to go for broke. It won't result in one-game heroics, but it could result in the Blackcaps hoisting the World Cup trophy for the first time in history. And for Taylor, that would be far sweeter than firing in one match.
Note: All statistics as of May 25, 2019