Cricket: Taylor's captaincy on the line

Ross Taylor. Photo Reuters
Ross Taylor. Photo Reuters
Ross Taylor is fighting to retain his captaincy of the New Zealand cricket team.

His reign of 16 months could end tomorrow when the T20 and test squads leaving for South Africa next week are due to be named.

Yet Taylor, if he is dumped by the selection panel of coach Mike Hesson and selection manager Kim Littlejohn, would be in a rare situation of having been removed straight after overseeing a highly meritorious victory.

The captaincy is part of a debrief into the Sir Lanka tour, on which New Zealand lost their ODI series 3-0 and were heavily beaten in the first test before rebounding impressively in Colombo last week for a 167-run win.

"We are undertaking a full review of all aspects of the tour," New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said from Dubai last night.

He would not speculate on the captaincy but accepted being away on International Cricket Council business while the tour was being assessed, and the captaincy on the line, was "not ideal".

The whispers grew through the day yesterday that Taylor's job was on the line.

Opener Brendon McCullum, his rival when a replacement for Dan Vettori was needed after the World Cup in March last year, is the only other candidate.

Taylor and McCullum went through a messy auditioning process. Rightly or not, Taylor was seen as a "safer" option than the flamboyant McCullum. Although McCullum is known to have had misgivings over that selection method, he still has ambitions to be New Zealand captain.

Player unhappiness has been suggested as a factor in the imbroglio. Talk of Taylor having "lost" at least the more bullish bowling half of the dressing room began circulating late last season. Yet, Colombo notwithstanding, there are several New Zealand players who should be looking at their own performances rather than agitating for a new leader.

Taylor's batting numbers suggest a player whose own game has thrived with the pressure of leadership.

When Hesson, an Otago man and with longtime links to McCullum, was appointed in time for the tour of India in August, replacing John Wright, he stuck with Taylor.

Under the Central Districts man, New Zealand have lost seven and won four of 13 tests; however, two of the four were against lowly Zimbabwe. The others were notable feathers in the cap, however, against Australia in Hobart last December, and last week.

A source close to developments yesterday conceded the debrief on the Sri Lankan tour would be "crunchier" than usual.

Another believed "the longer this goes on it makes it harder for everyone. It is almost untenable at the moment."

Three options are on the table: stick with Taylor, split the captaincy with Taylor retaining tests and McCullum getting his chance in the two shorter forms; or removing Taylor altogether.

The problem now for McCullum is perception: that if he is made captain, there will inevitably be a school of thought, however exaggerated, that he has been active in the dressing room.

As for the idea of splitting the captaincy, the problem is that if one team does significantly better than the other, should the less successful captain then be removed altogether?

It is shaping as another fine mess for NZC to pick its way through.

- David Leggat of the New Zealand Herald