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AOC’s Most Loved Cricketers: No.37 Mark Taylor

English fans may balk at the inclusion of an Aussie who scored just shy of 2,500 Ashes runs and helped to scythe down England in six-out-of-six Test series, but we’ve always had a soft spot for Tubby. A ferocious competitor on the field but amiable and easy-going off it, the former Australian skipper is now recognised as one of his country’s most effective batsmen. When he arrived on these shores in 1989, however, Taylor was a relative unknown.

Mark Taylor – Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1990

First published in the 1990 Wisden Almanack

It was no coincidence that the Australian team’s record sequence of first-innings totals of 400 or more in nine consecutive Test matches in 1989 began with Mark Taylor’s arrival on the Test scene. The sturdily built 24-year-old left-hander from New South Wales was the missing link the selectors had been seeking, even though it meant breaking up the previously successful combination of Geoff Marsh and David Boon to accommodate him. The critical point in Taylor’s favour was his left-handedness, which allowed a return to the left- and right-hand opening combination advocated by Australia’s coach, Bob Simpson, whose own partnership with southpaw Bill Lawry in the 1960s had been so prolific.

Taylor’s arrival did more than disturb the line of the opposing new-ball bowlers. It triggered a chain reaction which slotted into place a previously fragmented batting order. Boon quickly relished his role as a strokeplaying third opener at No. 3, and Dean Jones, inconsistent against the new ball, moved down a place to No. 4 and then to No. 5, where he began collecting runs with a cocksure zest which ideally complemented the higher order. Yet without doubt it was Taylor, the least experienced of the top six, who was the key batsman in Australia’s triumphal march through England in the summer of 1989.

Before his arrival in England, Mark Anthony Taylor was virtually unknown outside Australia, apart perhaps from his unwitting role in the confusion that followed the selection of his offspinning club and state teammate, Peter Taylor, for the Sydney Test against England in January 1987. (Mark believed for three hours that he was in the Test team.) By the time he left England four months and 1,669 first-class runs later, his name was being written into the record books alongside some of the game’s immortals. His Test aggregate against England of 839 runs at an average of 83.90 had been bettered in an Ashes series only by Bradman and Hammond (both in five Tests to Taylor’s six), and at The Oval he had moved ahead of Neil Harvey, a fellow New South Wales left-hander, into third place on the all-time list of runscorers in a single series. By the end of the year, with two more centuries at home in the two Tests against Sri Lanka, he had become the first player to hit 1,000 runs in his first calendar year of Test cricket, finishing 1989 with 1,219 runs at an average of 64.15 from 11 Tests.

In the opinion of his captain, Allan Border, Taylor played the crucial innings of the Ashes series when, Australia having been sent in to bat on a suspect pitch, he batted throughout the first day of the first Test at Headingley, a ground littered with the broken dreams of previous Australian sides. Playing in only his third Test, Taylor was less interested in personal milestones than in surviving until six o’clock, and he spent a sleepless night on 96 before reaching his maiden Test century the following morning. He went on to make 136, and later that day Stephen Waugh also hit his first Test hundred in an Australian total of 601 for seven declared. The die had been cast.

Taylor was to become a familiar sight to England’s bowlers that summer. He occupied the crease for almost 38 hours – the equivalent of more than six full playing days – throughout the series. His 11 innings produced a sequence which read 136, 60, 62, 27, 43, 51, 85, 37 not out, 291, 71 and 48, with his 219 at Trent Bridge the highest in Ashes Tests in almost a quarter of a century. In that innings, he and Marsh batted throughout the first day for 301 and carried on the following day to 329, the highest opening stand in the history of Anglo-Australian cricket. Such was his consistency that in a sequence of 25 first-class innings on tour, he failed to get into the twenties or beyond only once. England’s selectors would have given their eye-teeth for such reliability.

Born in Leeton, New South Wales, on October 27, 1964, Taylor learned the basics of batting while his father threw cork compo balls to him in the concrete garage of their home in Wagga Wagga, where the family had moved when Mark was eight. The family cricketing hero was Arthur Morris, the great New South Wales left-hand opener, whose 1948 aggregate of 696 Taylor passed in the fifth Test at Trent Bridge. Morris wrote to congratulate him. He played his first organised cricket at South Wagga primary school when he was 10 and, always an opening batsman, scored his first century at the age of 13 for the Lake Albert club at Bolton in Wagga. Geoff Lawson, another product of the club, recalls watching the innings. The family then moved to Sydney, where Taylor played for Chatswood High School and in the Lindfield Shires under 16 grade before joining Northern Districts, where he still plays. He joined the Waugh twins, Stephen and Mark, in under 19 youth internationals for Australia against Sri Lanka in 1982/83.

Taylor, a qualified surveyor, broke into the state team at the start of the 1985/86 season and promptly scored nearly 1,000 runs in the first season. Another solid year was followed by a lean season in 1987/88, after which he spent an English summer with Greenmount, helping them win the Bolton League for the first time by scoring more than 1,300 runs at an average of 70. It was there that he gained the confidence to become a strokeplayer and so strugged off the “stodgy” label wwhich had been attached to him earlier in his career. That summer in Australia he was called into the Australian team for the last two Tests against the touring West Indians, even though he had not scored a century all season.

Like most of his Australian teammates, Taylor favours a light bat – about two and a half pounds – and a comfortable, traditional stance. Once considered primarily a legside player, he developed his offside driving in England, where he made a speciality of back-foot shots through the covers. He is a superb slip fieldsman – some say the best Australian since Simpson – and plays off a single-figure handicap at golf. Strangely, perhaps, he swings right-handed, but it is the least orthodox thing about him.

© John Wisden & Co

First published in 1864, The Wisden Almanack is still recognised throughout the cricket world as the definitive recorder of the game. Click here to buy the 2012 edition of the Wisden Almanack

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