New Zealand found themselves in deep trouble heading into the series with Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry down with injuries. The situation worsened as Scott Kuggleijn and Mitchell Santner were rested for the second ODI owing to illness while Tim Southee, who as well was little under the weather before the Auckland game, was forced to play because of lack of substitutes. But there was one man in their side who showed the confidence that New Zealand would shrug off their misery after the 5-0 drubbing in T20Is, in the format which they claim to be more comfortable. Two matches later, New Zealand have both their hands on the trophy after taking a 2-0 lead against a formidable Indian side in the three-game ODI series. And the pivotal reason behind their win has been the batting contributions from that man, Ross Taylor. Scoring 182 runs in the two matches without being dismissed, Taylor has managed to nullify the absence of big stars to guide New Zealand to the verge of realising a first-ever ODI series whitewash against India.
In Hamilton, in the first ODI, New Zealand witnessed a strong start with Martin Guptill and Henry Nicholls managing a promising 85-run opening stand before they lost two quick wickets to invite Taylor to the crease. He stitched a 62-run stand alongside Nicholls and a 138-run stand with stand-in skipper Tom Latham en route to his knock of 109 that helped New Zealand pull off a run chase to 348 - the highest ever by New Zealand and the second-highest by a team against the Men in Blue in ODIs. Three nights later, Taylor played another crucial knock at No.4 of 73* amid wickets tumbling at regular intervals at the Eden Park. Guptill and Nicholls provided a strong start by adding 93 for the first wicket. Tom Blundell added 49 more, but New Zealand suddenly lost their way, losing seven wickets for just 55 runs. Taylor was still around hoping for some assistance before he found an unlikely companion in debutant Kyle Jamieson as the pair added 76 runs for the ninth wicket that gave New Zealand a target to defend. The hosts won the match by 22 runs.
Taylor is the most under-appreciated batsman in the era of Fab Four. But if you walk back to look at his numbers over the last two years, he has scored 1592 runs in 27 innings at 79.75 - the highest average by a batsman, well above Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Moreover, he is more valuable to his team than any of the Fab Four members. Taylor's run contribution for his team in the last two years has been 24.1 per cent, almost a mark (23.2) higher than the Indian skipper.
Even in the current series, Taylor is the leading run-getter with 182 runs at a strike rate of 115.19 and has not been dismissed even once. And his run contribution has been 29.3 per cent, higher than any player in the series. The biggest challenge, hence, for the Indian attack has been to dismiss Taylor.
Taylor is the best player against spin, whether off or leg, averaging well over 80, albeit with a low strike rate. Hence, India would have to castle him down with pace attack. According to Cricviz, since World Cup 2015, Taylor averages well over 100 against short balls, but struggles against fuller deliveries, averaging a tad below 30.
The last time India had played a bilateral series against New Zealand, Taylor struggled to score runs against the fuller deliveries. He managed only eight runs against the variety in 29 deliveries, recording a strike rate of 27.58. And the one to trouble him the most was Bhuvneshwar Kumar, against whom he managed only 36 runs in 44 deliveries. In the present series, he amassed 23 runs in 16 balls against this variety with only one boundary.
Mohammed Shami, if he plays in the final ODI, will be key for India to get down with the plan of targetting Taylor with fuller deliveries but down the off-side corridor. Kohli can get to pack the offside and keep one fielder at mid-wicket to avoid his shuffling across the stump.
“Ross is batting really well. He can play like God on the leg side once he is in. In the last two ODIs, there were chances of us dismissing him, but we did not grab our chances. It is important to send him back early in the innings,” said Shardul Thakur ahead of the third ODI in Mount Maunganui.