Thi were two good young batsmen knocking around the small New Zealand town of Masterton in the late 90s and back then no one was sure what was better. The first was Ross Taylor, the second was Jesse Ryder, five months younger, who lived in Carterton, 16 miles down the road. Ryder would open batting and Taylor played in the middle order, No. 4 or 5.
They remained that way as they advanced through the age groups, for the Central Districts, the National Academy and under-19 teams, right up to the test team, where in 2009 they set a record in sharing a 271-race partnership against India in Napier. Ryder went on to make 201, Taylor 151.
Taylor has just completed her 112th and final test; an innings victory over Bangladesh in Christchurch. Maybe you saw the clips online, the guard of honor when he came in to strike, the standing ovation as he walked off after being taken in square leg in 28. Or the finish. Late on the third day, with Bangladesh nine wickets down in the second innings and still hundreds and many runs away from getting New Zealand to strike again, the crowd started yelling at the captain, Tom Latham, to bring Taylor on for bowling. Taylor had not done so in a test match in eight years, but he smiled and turned his arm a few times in a false warm-up.
Then fate intervened. The judges ruled that New Zealand should wear a spinner because the light was fading. “It probably left a decision,” Latham said. He passed the ball to Taylor. Ebadot Hossain struck, and by his own standards he was in the lead. After a run of 10 consecutive zeros, Hossain had just hit the first four of his test career, in addition to Kyle Jamieson, making this his highest score for Bangladesh. He blocked Taylor’s first ball, patted his second back and then had an almighty lift at his third, which he struck high into the leg. Latham took the catch.
So Taylor’s last act in test cricket was the match-winning wicket. “It could not have been written better,” Latham said. It was not the perfect finish. Taylor had let it go up six months earlier when he reached the winning races in New Zealand’s victory over India in the first world championship in tests. But it was a good one and appropriate, for it ended up being laughed at and bullied by his teammates. It’s better than most players get.
Take Ryder. He played his last test in December 2011. His numbers speak to his talent, 18 tests, 1,269 races with an average just under 41, and three centuries. He played his last international match three years later, an ODI victory against India in January 2014. That month, he hit a century of 46 balls against the West Indies. They called him up to the test team from behind, but dropped him again after he was late out drinking one night.
New Zealand still wanted him on their World Cup squad in 2015 until he withdrew from an A-trip to the UAE for personal reasons. Ryder had all the talent, just as much as Taylor ever had, but he could never find a way around his problems.
Ryder still played first-class cricket for the Central Districts in 2018. Then they cut him. He then worked as a player-coach for the Napier Technical Old Boys, leading them to back-to-back national club titles, but the last time he appeared in the newspapers was because he had been caught driving under the influence in March 2020.
Taylor and Ryder go on similar paths. Taylor is half Samoan. The reason he has been going with Ross all these years is that his first principal could not get his tongue around his first name, Luteru. “I guess there were not too many Polynesian children in Masterton in those days,” he said. “After a while, they gave up and said, ‘Just call him Ross.'”
Ryder is half Maori. Both played themselves up in the world after discovering talent on the junior track, Taylor’s talents gave him a spot at Palmerston North Boys ‘High School, and Ryder was sent to Napier Boys’ High School. But they ended up going on very different journeys.
They say Taylor had the benefit of a stable family around her, and Ryder did not. Taylor certainly had a strength that helped him through the tough moments he faced along the way. He stepped away from international cricket in 2013 after being fired from the captaincy in late 2012 by Mike Hesson, in a row that split New Zealand’s cricket right down the middle. Taylor averaged 50 at the time and had just hit 142 and 74 to win a Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo. Hesson always insisted that he only intended to replace Taylor as captain of the white ball, but in the end, Brendon McCullum took over in all three formats. Taylor came back and ended up having his best year in test cricket as a batsman to that point.
If that decision was a turning point for the national team, which made two World Cup finals as well as won that world championship in testing, in the years that followed, it was in part because of the way Taylor was able to adjust.
He then came through injuries, eye surgery and a fall in the form of finishing as New Zealand’s leading race scorer. He got his happy ending.