By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor enters his fourth, and almost certainly last, World Cup in the form of his life, raising the prospect he might even outshine Kane Williamson in England and Wales.
The good news for New Zealand fans is that the former captain and his most recent successor in the role will be playing on the same team. They will be expected to provide a formidable three-four combination in the batting lineup.
Both have been in superb form since the Black Caps reached the final of last World Cup but Taylor has overshadowed his 28-year-old skipper and risen to the top three in the International Cricket Council rankings.
The 35-year-old has scored 2,892 ODI runs over those four years, placing him sixth in the list of most prolific batsmen headed by India captain Virat Kohli (4,306).
Taylor, however, has played fewer games than everyone else above him and his average of 68.85 compares unfavourably with only Kohli’s 78.29. It is also significantly better than the seventh-placed Williamson’s 47.01.
It is no coincidence that Taylor’s batting has improved markedly since he underwent surgery in late 2016 to remove a pterygium — a benign growth — that was affecting the vision in his left eye.
In the 17 matches from the last World Cup until his operation he scored 692 runs at 62.90. Since the procedure, he has scored 2,200 runs at 70.96 in 42 games.
A change in technique — he is less fidgety and squarer on at the crease while his backlift has straightened — has also helped and he has been knocking off a number of personal batting milestones.
He became the first New Zealand player to score 20 one-day centuries when he hit 137 against Sri Lanka in Nelson in January.
The following month, he surpassed Stephen Fleming as New Zealand’s leading one-day run scorer when he flicked a single off Bangladesh’s Mehidy Hassan in Dunedin to move to 8,008 runs, a total which he has now extended to 8,026.
Since the start of the year he has scored 593 runs and only been dismissed in single figures once in his 11 ODI innings — a run of form he credits to the work he has put in off the field.
“Being a World Cup year, I have had a big focus on my one-day game,” Taylor told the Middlesex website ahead of the start of a short-term contract for the English county last month.
“I am happy with the way things have gone. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself. It’s about just playing the situation.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)