Taylor talks finding best of both worlds

New Zealand farewelled its highest international run-scorer and a true gentleman of the game when Ross Taylor signalled his retirement from international cricket earlier this year.

By Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor for rnz.co.nz

Leaupepe Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor signs off as New Zealand’s most successful test batsman, with 7683 runs including 19 centuries from 112 matches between 2007 and 2022, with a batting average of 44.66 runs.

The son of Neil Taylor of Masterton, and Naoupu Lote-Taylor from Saluafata in Anoamaa, Samoa, Ross drew on both his Samoan and Palagi heritage to find success at the game’s highest level. He carries the chiefly titles of Leaupepe and Luteru on his Samoan side.

Speaking to RNZ Pacific, Ross spoke about the importance of physical activity for young people.

As a child, his favorite sports were cricket and hockey, but at that time he couldn’t imagine sport as a career.

He said that a lot has changed since then.

The child of a mixed-race family, Ross was influenced by many sports: rugby, league, and softball from his Samoan family and cricket from his Palagi side.

Ross Taylor and family during day three of the second Test between New Zealand and Bangladesh.

However, Ross found a perfect notification of these influences in kilikiti – Samoan cricket often played by church groups. All of these helped shape his identity.

It was not always a perfect fusion, and Ross admitted to being told off by church ministers for blocking the ball; which is vital in cricket, but not done in Kilikiti.

He acknowledged that while he learned the enjoyment of trying to smack the ball as hard as possible, he also brought what his family called a “palagi flavour” into the game. While growing up he also often played backyard cricket with his Samoan cousins.

Ross credited his father with nurturing his interest in cricket. In the same way, he himself has tried to promote cricket to Polynesian youth and break down misconceptions and cultural barriers around the sport.

During a visit to Parliament, for a careers day, he discovered that the palagi students knew who he was and his sporting achievements.

However, the Polynesian children were surprised to learn that a part-Samoan not only played professional cricket but represented New Zealand internationally.

He said they were “blown away” because cricket was seen as a “palagi sport”.

Ross Taylor donating cricket gear during a visit to Samoa.

Ross also acknowledged that more Polynesian players are gradually coming onto the cricket scene. When he began playing professionally, only Murphy Su’a had played for the Black Caps, the first Samoan to do so.

In particular, Ross stated his belief that the relatively new Twenty20 format of cricket is well suited to Polynesian and Māori players, who have the talent and hand-eye coordination to excel. He hoped that New Zealand cricket will tap into this potential wealth of players – not just for the Black Caps but to promote the sport in general.

A key part of this would be identifying and supporting players from a young age: something that happens with Polynesian youth and rugby, but not so much with cricket.

When asked about the highlights of his international career Ross said: “First of all, representing your country was a dream of mine … those first few games first test match, first one day international … something you treasure and having your family and friends, winning world cup would have to be up there, I think.”

Samoan Kilikiti cricket played in Auckland.

He also noted that while it was very difficult to lose a world cup final it was gratifying just to have been part of such a great occasion.

While Ross spoke about the highs he also shared some of the lows.

He talked about the challenges and setbacks he has faced during his cricketing career including injuries and the difficulty of maintaining top-level form. Ross said that an essential part of dealing with the lows had been the support of his family, who provided a sounding board and a “reality check”.

Ross also noted that social media was only really in its infantry at the start of his career. He said that today ” everybody out there can have an opinion on things and how you deal with that, you know, regarding you can tell someone or don’t read it or things at some stage, it’s going to get back to your family and get back to you at some stage.”

The key to dealing with these pressures was becoming resilient. he said:

“I’m sure there’s times where different athletes are getting good stories written about them where … how do you deal with the ones that aren’t as good? And all those things … if you just come back to your family and friends and that is your best resource and your reality check there and I’ve definitely been fortunate that to have some … obviously great family support but some really good friends that have given me some good advice and continue to do that to this day.”

Ross acknowledged that despite developing a “thick skin” he also learned more from the failures and lows than the successes and high points in his career.

When asked about his involvement with the future of Pasifika players in the international game Ross noted that he had been helping coach the Papua New Guinea team, possibly the best Pacific team in the region.

Although he still has several one-day matches to play for New Zealand he will continue playing domestic cricket. However, he looks forward to getting more involved with the game in a different capacity.

In particular, the Cricket Players Association has an initiative called “Hooked on Cricket” which is aimed at exposing youngsters in lower decile areas to cricket. He hopes that as well as inspiring children to become involved he can motivate parents to support them.

He reminisced about how kilikiti had played such a role in his early cricket development, both as a social and cultural event and as a sport.

He noted that Black Cap Martin Guptill had played kilikiti as a student at Avondale College.

Ross expressed the hope that more people would break down the boundaries between kilikiti and cricket, to encourage young people to put aside their devices and video games and engage in fun, healthy physical activity with friends.

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