Mark Taylor (cricketer) : biography
The 1997 Ashes tour started poorly amid rumours that Taylor was on the verge of losing his place in the side.Piesse, pp. 129–130. He batted ineffectively as Australia lost the one day series 0–3, scoring seven and 11, before dropping himself for the final match. In the First Test, Australia were dismissed for 118 in the first innings, with Taylor contributing seven: he had not managed to pass 50 in his last 21 Test innings. England amassed a big lead of 360 runs. With Australia facing a heavy defeat, media criticism of his position intensified. The Melbourne Age ran a competition for its readers to forecast how many runs he would make. Most respondents guessed less than 10 runs.Piesse, p. 131. The team’s erstwhile coach, Bob Simpson, said that Taylor’s retention in the team in spite of his poor form was fostering resentment among the players and destabilising the team.
Taylor started nervously in the second innings, but went on to score of 129, which saved his career, but not the match. His performance prompted personal congratulations from Prime Minister John Howard and the team’s management allowed the media a rare opportunity to enter the dressing room and interview Taylor. During the period he refused offers by the manager to handle the media on his behalf.Piesse, pp. 132–133. Australia went on to win the Third, Fourth and Fifth Tests and retain the Ashes 3–2.Piesse, pp. 228. Although Taylor made single figures in the three Tests following his century, he contributed 76 and 45 in the series-clinching Test at Nottingham. Taylor ended the series with 317 runs at 31.7.
However, Taylor’s ODI form was not to the satisfaction of the selectors. At the start of the 1997–98 season, a new selection policy was announced: the Test and ODI teams became separate entities, with specialists in each form of the game selected accordingly. Taylor was dropped from the ODI team,Piesse, pp. 139–140. in favour of the aggressive Michael di Venuto. Tactically, ODI cricket was transformed by Sri Lanka’s World Cup success, when it employed the highly aggressive opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana.
At this time, Taylor was a central figure in a pay dispute between the players and the ACB, with a strike action threatened by the players.Piesse, pp. 137–139. Taylor continued as Test captain and led the team to a 2–0 win over New Zealand. The first two matches were won by 186 runs and an innings, while the Third Test ended with Australia one wicket from victory after almost two day’s play was washed out.Perry, pp. 406–408. Taylor scored a century (112 on the first day of the First Test,Piesse, pp. 142. and an unbeaten 66 in the Third Test, compiling 214 runs at 53.50 for the series. This was followed by three Tests against South Africa. After South Africa withheld the Australian bowling on the final day to secure a draw in the Boxing Day Test, Australia took a 1–0 lead in the New Year’s Test at Sydney with an innings victory. Taylor carried his bat for 169 in the first innings of the Third Test at Adelaide which helped Australia to draw the match and clinch the series.Piesse, pp. 143.
On the 1998 tour of India, Elliott was dropped and Taylor reunited with Slater as the opening pair.Piesse, p. 153. Australia started well by taking a 71-run first innings lead in the First Test at Chennai,Piesse, p. 229. but Sachin Tendulkar’s unbeaten 155 put Australia under pressure to save the match on the final day. They were unable to resist and lost by 179 runs.Piesse, pp. 154–155. Australia was crushed by an innings and 219 runs in the Second Test at Calcutta, Australia first series loss in four years and the first time that Australia had lost by an innings for five years.Piesse, pp. 153, 229. Thus, a series victory in India, which Australia had not achieved since 1969–70, remained elusive. Australia won the Third Test in Bangalore by eight wickets, with Taylor scoring an unbeaten 102 in a second innings run chase.Piesse, pp. 157–158.
Later in 1998, Taylor led his team to Pakistan, where a convincing win in the First Test at Rawalpindi by an innings and 99 runs was Australia’s first Test victory in the country for 39 years.Piesse, pp. 166, 230. Taylor then attended a court hearing investigating the claims of match-fixing made during the 1994 tour.Piesse, pp. 165. In the Second Test at Peshawar, Taylor played the longest innings of his career. He batted two days to amass 334 not out, equalling Sir Donald Bradman’s Australian record set in 1930. In temperatures above 32oC, Taylor survived two dropped catches before he had reached 25 and scored slowly on the first day.Piesse, p. 167. He shared a 206-run partnership with Justin Langer. The next day, he added 103 runs in a morning session extended from two to three hours. After the tea interval, he discarded his helmet in favour of a white sun hat, to deal with the extreme heat. He passed 311, eclipsing Bob Simpson’s record score by an Australian captain. In the final over, Taylor equalled Bradman’s Australian Test record when a shot to midwicket was barely stopped by Ijaz Ahmed, which reduced the scoring opportunity to a single run.Piesse, pp. 167–170.