UNLIKE his last few innings in international cricket, Mark Taylor has got his timing right this time. By quitting now, he has ensured that he will not be accused of selfishness (going to the West Indies to better his average against that team), grandstanding (trying to cut better deals because he is needed now) or resting on his laurels (the effect of that 334 is slowly beginning to wear off).
There are some cricketers like David Boon and Larry Gomes who go out when they are on top; others like Allan Border and Kapil Dev hang around until they have to be almost told to go. Taylor was not in the best of form during the latter part of the Ashes series and memories of that slump during 1996-97 may still be reverberating in his head. Cricket officials have been asking him to stay on, to serve their own selfish ends, but he probably knows how fickle that bunch can be.
Taylor's success was to a large degree not of his own making. He took command of a team which had completed the rebuilding process. It was Border who had to bear the pain of rebuilding a team which had splintered under Hughes. By the time Border was gone, the Australian Cricket Academy had begun to yield plenty of good fruit. And the West Indies -- every captain's ni.htmlare from 1980 onwards -- were slowly coming apart around the time when Taylor took over.
Success was thus not all that unexpected. He had some gritty cricketers under his command and they certainly came good time and again. It was not as good a team as the West Indies teams of the 1980s -- a team which, according to Greenidge, could have been often led by a pensioner, so good were they -- but it certainly came close. The rest had nothing comparable.
But that does not mean that Taylor had no stuff in him. The manner in which he conducted himself during the form slump of 1996-97 was remarkable and earned him a great deal of admiration. He was dignity personified. He did not try to shrug off things, merely accepted them. And he managed to get runs at a crucial point -- the first Test against England in 1997 -- to keep his place in the team. That took some character, especially as Australia were up against it in that match.
This has been one of his characteristics. His mental toughness. The ability to never return a jibe with a jibe has been another factor which has served him well. He has never been seen as arrogant or inconsiderate. And he has never come under a cloud, though since 1997 there have been plenty of instances when he could well have done a bit more as skipper.
The Waugh-Warne bookie incident and the Malik affair were both known to Taylor long before the public was aware; did he do anything about either? During the pay dispute, he was one of the small gang who overturned a democratic vote by the players and called off the strike. Many players are still suffering unresolved contract negotiations with the board as a result and some took pay cuts. Taylor got an extra payment after his 334.
On the South African tour of 1997, three in-form players were sent home after the Tests; Taylor remained for the one-dayers. He failed in the first two one-dayers. It was a terrible insult to the three -- Langer, Elliott and Hayden -- who were sent home to keep him there. And Taylor lied when he told journalists that he had received assurances that he would lead Australia during the Ashes tour of England. He had actually been told by Trevor Hohns that he would lead the campaign. Had he revealed it then, it would have looked bad; this was over a month before the selectors met to pick the team. The man who was struggling to make runs had been picked ahead of everybody else.
These are but a few incidents which show the other side of Mark Taylor; there are a good many more -- the Ponting incident in India and the McGrath incident during the recent Ashes series, to cite just two. Not for nothing has a Sydney paper given him the name Teflon Tubby. Of course, if he goes into television commentary full-time, then the name may well be changed to Tele-Tubby!
104 Tests, 7525 runs, 334 not out highest score, 40 half-centuries and 19 hundreds, average of 43.50, 157 catches. Captained Australia in 50 Tests, won 26, lost 13, drew 11; all series were decided one way or the other.
Lost only three of the 14 series in which he was captain, two to India in India and one to Pakistan in Pakistan. Skippered Australia to wins against England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand. (Australia has not played Tests against Zimbabwe to date). Only Allan Border (93 Tests as captain) has led Australia more times.
His win record as Australian captain in percentage terms (52 percent) is fourth, below Bradman (62.5 percent), Hassett (58.33 percent) and Woodfull (56 percent).