Ross Taylor always had his eye on top job
Meet Ross Taylor, New Zealand's 27th test captain.
Decent bloke. Unfailingly polite. Big family man. Hits the ball a long way.
Any dirt? Absolutely not, unless you count a self-confessed weakness for the colonel's secret recipe. There's an impressive wine collection at his Hamilton home, but boozy controversies and Taylor are mutually exclusive. The shots flow on the pitch, but the man behind the willow plays an exceedingly straight bat off it.
His private life is suddenly a bit more public. Five days after being unveiled as skipper, he will marry Victoria Brown, a former Northern Districts women's cricket rep, in Taupo today. His long-time Central Districts and New Zealand team-mate Jacob Oram will be there. Some other invitees couldn't make it because of English county commitments. Brendon McCullum won't be present, but nothing should be read into that.
"It's a tough one, you invite one or two guys or the whole team," Taylor said.
There's no bad blood after the past week, Taylor insists. He and McCullum were pushed forth into a drawn out, almost uncomfortable two-man race. McCullum put a compelling case to the panel, but Taylor maintains he was "very confident" as the incumbent vice-captain who had performed on the park in 11 ODIs in charge.
Coach John Wright already seemed convinced, by Taylor's batting, tactical nous and subtle field changes when Daniel Vettori was injured at the World Cup.
Captaincy has always sat well with Taylor. Lower Hutt-born, Masterton-raised [Lansdowne Cricket Club gets a prominent mention], he was advised by Central Districts to shift from Wairarapa College to Palmerston North Boys' High School for stronger cricket. He clouted angry fast bowlers all over Manawatu in the premier grade, led CD age-group sides, then his first big captaincy gig was New Zealand Under-19, in 2002.
An affinity with the younger players is seen as a strength. His philosophy? "Quiet. Lead from the front. Try and get the best out of individuals. We play this game that we all enjoy, and generally if you're having fun you'll play a lot better cricket."
Ever since he was confirmed Vettori's deputy, he's coveted the top job, even if it arrived sooner than he thought at 27 years and three months of age. He favours the Stephen Fleming style; stand at slip, go on a whim and tweak the field, an occasional trot for a word with the bowler.
The famed "cow corner" shot, a throwback to his hockey days, will remain but he promises to pick his moment.
Not prone to press conference rants, Taylor insists he can turn up the volume within the dressing room walls. Just his second ODI as skipper, in Dambulla last August, followed an ordinary effort in a tour match.
"When it's necessary it has to come out. There's no use ranting and raving every time. It dilutes the message. But when it's necessary, I won't mind doing it. I gave it to the team a little bit after we played Sri Lanka A, when Brendon and Daniel weren't there. I wouldn't put it down to that speech, but we did play pretty well and won by 200 runs."
That was against India, and Taylor scored 95 to emphasise his point. His most memorable match in charge was the World Cup win against Pakistan, after he had blasted 131 not out, then Vettori wrenched his ankle in the fourth over. "Usually when you're captain you get a bit of time to think about it."
The Indian Premier League, apart from earning him $1.3 million this year, provided some of his best captaincy lessons. Rahul Dravid in year one, followed by Anil Kumble then Shane Warne this year.
"I talked to Warney a lot about captaincy during the IPL. He's big on winning from anywhere, and that's one thing I'll try to instil into the players."
Family is rarely far from Taylor's thoughts. His parents, Neil and Ann, and paternal grandparents, Jack and Sylvia, follow his career intently from Masterton and try to attend Wellington and Napier matches.
"I don't think granddad sees the ball as well as he did," Taylor laughs.
"You're always going to have your critics but they're very staunch supporters of me and they tell me when I'm not doing that well which is a nice leveller."
Soon to be New Zealand's highest-paid player [base salary $177,000, captain's bonus, $50,000, plus match fees] he shies away from his growing reputation as a philanthropist. He's reluctant to discuss buying a house for his parents, but is grateful he could repay their dedicated hours moulding his career.
His mother is Samoan [he was just the second after Murphy Sua to play test cricket for New Zealand], and with that comes a large family.
In every cricket-playing city Taylor catches up with relatives for dinner or coffee, and obliges the flood of requests for tickets. "If you talk to most Samoans, we're all related in some way. I try and keep [tickets] to a minimum but that's quite tough in Auckland and Wellington."
It's only going to get tougher, but, like most things, captain Taylor seems like he can handle it.
The Dominion Post