World Cup dream Taylor-made for Black Caps great

Neil SANDS
New Zealand's Ross Taylor averages nearly 50 in one-day internationals

Ross Taylor has been rejected, written off and wracked by injury but the veteran New Zealand batsman is in the form of his life and focused on capping a late career surge by finally lifting the World Cup.

While Taylor has made no formal retirement announcement, he openly acknowledges that, at 35, his fourth World Cup in England and Wales will probably be his last.

"England is a great tour to go on. The bus trips, playing at those traditional grounds -- I couldn't think of a better place to be if it is your last World Cup," he said.

Despite his age, Taylor remains pivotal to the Black Caps' hopes of going one better than their appearance in the 2015 tournament final and claiming a maiden title.

He is New Zealand's most prolific run-scorer in one-day internationals, with 8,026 in 203 innings, giving him the highest ODI average of any Black Cap at 48.34.

The right-handed Taylor, who also has more ODI hundreds (20) than any other Kiwi, has hit new heights late in his 13-year career.

Taylor's batting figures at the start of his international career were respectable but his run-scoring over the past few years has been eye-catching. He averaged over 60 in ODIs in 2017 and more than 90 last year.

Those returns are not bad for a player who only a few years ago was being quietly pushed by the selectors towards becoming a Test-only batsman due to a perception his scoring rate had become too slow for limited-overs cricket.

- Clear vision -

The problem, it turned out, was not slowing reflexes but a growth in the corner of Taylor's left eye called a pterygium, better known as "surfer's eye".

While not life-threatening, it obscured Taylor's vision at the crease and his scores showed a sharp upward tick once it was surgically removed in late 2016.

It's not the first time the quietly spoken Taylor has endured questionable treatment from Kiwi administrators.

When he was dropped as New Zealand captain in 2012 for the more charismatic Brendon McCullum, many Black Caps fans accepted the decision but felt the way it was handled was clumsy, at best.

Rather than raging about his demotion, Taylor knuckled down and offered support to McCullum and then to current captain Kane Williamson as they set about moulding the Black Caps into a tight ODI unit.

Taylor's importance was demonstrated when he overcame cramps and injury to hit a career-best 181 not out against England in Dunedin in March last year.

Taylor hurt his thigh diving to avoid a run out and was left grimacing with pain after every shot, eventually giving up on limping between the wickets in favour of planting his one good leg at the crease and bludgeoning boundaries.

It earned a win for the New Zealanders and was later recognised by Cricinfo as the ODI innings of the year.

Such individual accolades mean little, however, when Taylor's team continues to fall just short on the international stage.

In Taylor's three previous World Cups, New Zealand have exited twice in the semi-finals and made the final once, in 2015, only to suffer a seven-wicket drubbing at the hands of Australia in Melbourne.

Taylor, who prepared for this year's tournament with a stint at English county Middlesex, said his teammates had learned from the experience and were better prepared to handle the pressure.

"Making a final, playing in front of 93,000 people is something you never forget," he said.

"Getting so close last time, hopefully, we can use that as motivation to go one better."