Ambush caught Ross Taylor by surprise
Like most ambushes, Ross Taylor never saw it coming when he answered a knock at his hotel room door on November 13, four days before the first test against Sri Lanka.
Coach Mike Hesson, manager Mike Sandle and assistant coach Bob Carter filed in. Hesson did most of the talking, Sandle chiming in occasionally and Carter largely silent. For Taylor it felt like the firing squad had locked and loaded, 17 months after being named captain of his country.
"They all came into my room and pretty much said that I wasn't good enough to captain the team. I was stunned and I didn't really know what to say," Taylor said last night.
"I accepted what they said and after 10-15 minutes they left my room and then the next day Mike Hesson came into the room by himself and said that when [director of cricket] John Buchanan gets over here he's going to recommend that we have a new captain for South Africa.
"In no way was he implying for one form of the game, he was implying for the whole of it."
All this just days out from a test in Galle as New Zealand tried to end a four-test losing streak. It soon became five as Taylor, clearly, wasn't in the best state to lead his country.
Rise above it and lead from the front, he told himself, but he struggled.
It begs the question, how could Taylor possibly have produced his man-of-the-match performance a few days later in the second test in Colombo? He scored 142 and 74 as New Zealand won by 167 runs, their best test win in recent memory.
"I don't know. I was pretty determined. I had all that stuff going on in the back of my mind but I was very conscious of not letting the team know that all of this was going on.
"I just tried my best and was determined to bat as long as possible."
Few realised it at the time, but the awkward on-field embrace between Taylor and Hesson, when the former left the latter hanging, was telling. Taylor's disdain for Hesson is clear. Their captain-coach relationship, in his eyes, was non-existent from day one in August.
"The relationship has been poor since it started really.
"I gave him a lot of support and didn't really get a lot of support back.
"It was the process, and the timing of it, more than anything. Three days out from a test, to come and say that, I was very surprised, I thought the timing was very poor."
Taylor refused David White's offer of the test captaincy during a three-hour meeting in Auckland on Thursday that appeared largely pointless. The chief executive apparently didn't handle it that well, either.
"He didn't answer my questions, all he could do was apologise."
Taylor will not captain New Zealand under Hesson again, even if the coach insists the test captaincy remains on the table when he returns, as planned, for England in February.
"I'm not sure I could do the job to the best of my ability. I wouldn't rule it out in the future, but at the current stage, no I don't think I could do the job."
Criticism of his captaincy was regular and Taylor admits he got it wrong sometimes. He felt he'd come a long way as a skipper, a player and a person since he took over against Zimbabwe in September last year. "I just captained to the best of my ability. I made some mistakes and I did some good things. Any captain who's new in the role does that. I think I would have just continued to grow in the role."
Taylor will be back for Central Districts when he feels ready, then intends to be available for the England series. He can play as a batsman under Hesson and new captain Brendon McCullum. He's had no indication the latter played any role in his demise, and wishes him all the best in charge.
"Captains and coaches come and go all the time but the team is what's more important. I look forward to coming back and playing with my team-mates again.
"It's still pretty fresh and raw. I've only been home for a little while and a lot of things have happened . . . I'll endeavour to do my best to be playing against England in front of family and friends, which is what I always enjoy doing."
The 28-year-old wouldn't entertain quitting the Black Caps altogether and becoming a Twenty20 gun for hire in India, Australia and beyond. "That's not me."
The hardest part for Taylor this week was the toll on his family. He bunkered down with wife Victoria and 1-year-old daughter Mackenzie in Hamilton, his manager Leanne McGoldrick at his side for the White meeting. Some past and present cricketers, who he didn't want to name, formed his support group, and Buchanan proved an unlikely ally.
The former Australian coach told Taylor he backed him "100 percent" to remain skipper, but Hesson got the final say. "He [Buchanan] gets a lot of stick in the media but the way he treated me and the way we've worked in the last little while has been outstanding."
The support from Taylor's family, the general public, and people he hadn't heard from for a while, was "amazing". So now, after a brutal five months it's a battery recharge, Christmas at home, and one eye on his team-mates playing South Africa on television.
"I'll just look forward to being a dad and doing some normal things." Ironic, then, after anything but a normal week.