Zombie ants will find a leaf about a foot off the ground, on the north side of a plant, attach themselves to the underside and will be eaten away by a fungus that is posthumously controlling them and eating their non-vital soft tissue. The ants have no say in what happens next, they are dead soldiers for their fungi overlords.
Batsmen generally don’t have this problem. Most batsmen are living creatures with free will. Sure every player has his own external and internal pressures. Perhaps the coach has told them to put a price on their wicket. Maybe they are worried about their place in the team. Bad form could always be an issue.
Then there is a pitch and the conditions. A grey sky or green pitch will play on the mind of any batsman. A grey sky can make the most cocksure batsman shut up shop.
Then there is the sideways movement. A little or a lot, it matters. It was not, as early cricket scientists tried to prove, an optical illusion. The cricket ball can dance in a way that can trip anyone up.
You can never discount bowlers in this equation (if you’ve been watching the IPL, they are the players who deliver the balls to the maximum hitters). Good bowling can stop a scoreboard; it can bring uncertainty to any situation. Backed by decent field strategies, runs become mythical whispers.
At Lord’s all of these things added up to stop every single batsman who walked out. Except one.
While the opposition and his team-mates held still like zombie ants on a leaf. Ross Taylor batted. He batted like his last few months haven’t involved a public demotion, his friend almost being killed, and a poor run of form in Test and IPL cricket. He batted like he, and few players, can. Like the opposition and conditions didn’t apply to him. In one knock in trying conditions he outscored his IPL season at a better strike rate.
Taylor is an interesting batsman. You feel had he not made it to Test level, he could play every ball on the legside and die a happy man. But despite his obvious talent (he has the 8th best average of any Kiwi Test batsman), he has worked very hard to make himself into a destructive force on the international stage. Yet, he’s not. Not consistently. Not like he could be.
Coupling talent with dedication should be a surefire hit. But Taylor struggles away from home. He isn’t as consistent as she should be. He can be ineffectual for long periods.
Then you see him today. Jimmy Anderson was crushing New Zealand, two quick wickets had spooked the team that had fought like champs to keep England’s total low.
Taylor walked in to a situation that looked dire from the outside. Taylor hit almost as many fours as England did on the entire first day. Taylor scored his fifty at better than a run a ball. Taylor batted like this despite the ball moving around enough to make his team-mates and the opposition find the underside of a leaf to stick themselves to.
A Taylor innings on full flow is a sight to see. It’s like KP, but humble. Bowlers are just there to deliver to him. He owns the crease. He hits the ball in a special way that most people can’t do, the way that almost instantly makes the bowler less sure of himself. And he just keeps batting faster and hitting harder until it doesn’t matter where the fielders are. Like he owns the ground and everyone in it. It doesn’t happen often, but when he does it, it’s clear that he’s not just a batsman. He’s something special.
You could see it building at Lord’s. The flash through point. The slog sweep. The fifty when everyone else saw a 30 as Everest.
Then, with greatness and an often-replayed highlights package within his grasp, he got a ball that kept a bit low. Not a shooter, but just a ball that hadn’t reached the heights it should have. Instead of one of those innings that Taylor plays that makes zealots out of heretics, it was just a cameo.
In the full story of Taylor’s career, it felt about right, with everything that has gone with him recently, it felt way short. Taylor is 29, and the next four years should be his best. At the least his average should jump over 45, and he should be demanding that he ends up as one of the greatest New Zealand players of all time.
Today was just a taster, all he really did is show us that he was not a Zombie ant, but he can do much more than that.