Taylor captaincy saga still hangs over Black Caps

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013
Ross Taylor
Photosport
STRAINED RELATIONS: Ross Taylor talks to Black Caps coach Mike Hesson.

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Listen for the roar. It will go up some time after 7pm tonight when Ross Taylor finally strides to the crease at Eden Park, his cricketing exile mercifully over.

As much as New Zealand Cricket hope normal transmission resumes soon afterwards, it might be some way off. 

Especially if Taylor struggles with the bat on return from an international hiatus stretching way back to November 29 and his match-winning performance in Colombo.

Still, the Taylor captaincy saga, and his "work in progress" relationship with the coach who sacked him, Mike Hesson, adds a gripping subplot to a long-awaited home series against England that opens with the first of three Twenty20 internationals.

Bar some attempts to introduce an Australian drug-taking and match-fixing angle to yesterday's proceedings - played down by both skippers - Taylor-gate has been the only angle in town. And while the saga might have badly damaged NZC's image, it shouldn't dent the hosts' chances tonight, save for an off-key Taylor.

His every move will be closely scrutinised, every run cheered like it was flowing from Sachin Tendulkar's bat in Mumbai. New skipper Brendon McCullum predicted the masses could number up to 30,000 for the tour opener. Meanwhile, Hesson may be best advised to keep a low profile - literally - in the players' box should the cameras pan in his direction.

Already there's been the awkward mid-pitch training photos of Hesson addressing Taylor who's looking the other way. The much-trumpeted clear-the-air meeting which Taylor said "went well" but offered few more details including whether an apology was forthcoming for the way his removal was handled. "I just want to play some cricket," he said.

That's amounted to four Plunket Shield innings for Central Districts since his return, worth four, 52, 21 and 21.

"Ross has come back and fitted in seamlessly and we're expecting a big performance out of him," captain McCullum said.

He and Taylor were fine and there was never any problem between them, McCullum insisted, but he was less certain of his coach and the former skipper.

"It's their separate issue. But they seem to be working professionally together as well, and I'm sure over time everything will be healed."

England are favourites in the contest between world No 4 and world No 8, and the formline certainly points to the tourists who've won the last five T20 matches between the sides stretching back to 2008.

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They arrived with few household names but unleashed big-hitting Jos Buttler in Whangarei, and are well helmed by Stuart Broad despite a "fat pad laceration" in his foot which requires constant attention. Buttler, Alex Hales and key finisher Eoin Morgan are batsmen to watch on Eden Park's microscopic straight boundaries.

"The way he's been striking it, it's pretty fearful. He's pretty much hitting it 360 degrees around the field and that's hard to defend," Broad said of Buttler who hit back-to-back half-centuries in the Whangarei warmup matches at a combined strike rate of 200.

And of their hosts: "We know with white ball cricket they're very dangerous. It'll be a feisty contest like we always have with New Zealand and both teams will be going hell for leather."

McCullum exuded confidence despite injuries to all-rounders Ian Butler (ankle) and Grant Elliott (quadriceps) which ruled them out. Otago's Jimmy Neesham was recalled but seems the likely 12th man, with McCullum saying he was confident of playing two spinners (Ronnie Hira and Nathan McCullum).

The long square boundaries at Eden Park gave spinners "get-out" options, McCullum said.

Debut opener Hamish Rutherford will partner Martin Guptill and be given licence to attack, followed by senior men McCullum and Taylor.

Imposing left-armer Mitchell McClenaghan will also be unleashed for his home debut after being the find of the South African tour which ended on a high with a 2-1 ODI series win.

"It's really important," McCullum said of tonight's opener. 

"We had a good finish to the South African tour but that shouldn't be the exception for us. That should be the norm as a team in shorter version cricket. That's the expectation we have of this group, is that we win the T20 and ODI series."

Contact Mark Geenty
Deputy sports editor
Email: mark.geenty@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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