There was a game towards the end of Patrick Ewing’s career with the New York Knicks, in which he made a quite nifty play in the dying moments to eke out a meager win. By that time the basketball legend was relatively full of years and had lost a step, and so neither his teammates, nor the opposition – perhaps not even he himself -- expected such speed and fluency of movement from the veteran.
If I remember well, and if you will forgive my limited basketball vocabulary, I will try to recall the play: he received the ball with his back to the basket, feigned left, then right, leapt and spun to the left and fired. The Ball went clean through the basket; nothing but the bottom of the net as they used to say. Asked about the play at the press conference that followed the game, a broadly smiling Patrick Ewing gave this answer: “I felt like I was Michael Jordan.”
During the 39th match of Cricket World Cup 2015 (CWC2015) held at Eden Park, Auckland, Zimbabwe’s captain, wicketkeeper, and best batsman, Brendan Taylor, played one of the more memorable innings of the month-old tournament.
Zimbabwe were in trouble at 13/2 when Taylor joined Solomon Mire in the middle during the game’s fifth over, and had advanced the score to just 33 when his partner departed. The admirable Sean Williams came in and made 50 as the pair added 93, while his partnership with Craig Ervine, who came in next, was worth 109. When Taylor fell, in the 42nd over, he had 138 to his name, and his team was well on its way to a challenging total.
I didn’t see any of his interviews after his innings or after the game. But if he were asked about his exceptional performance (and I’m sure he was, naturally) then he might have answered that he felt he was AB de Villiers, or Brendon McCallum perhaps. He could’ve said he felt likeVirat Kohli or Glenn Maxwell; or maybe a right-handed Christopher Gayle, or a David Warner. Such was the high quality of his innings that any of those celebrated batsmen would have been overjoyed having played it.
Throughout, the 29-year-old exhibited all the tricks and innovations of the modern game: the reverse sweeps, the switch hits, the backing away to leg to hit through off, and the ramp shot which took him to his century when he launched Mohammad Shami over third man for six. With that hit he became the only Zimbabwean to make back-to-back hundreds in the World Cup.
His boundary count was 15 fours and five sixes, hit all around Eden Park. He was especially harsh on the spinners, always eager to skip down the pitch to deposit them into the boundary or into the crowds, usually in the area from mid-on to mid-wicket. In one over from the unfortunate Ravindra Jadeja, the 41st of the innings, Taylor took him for 24 runs: 4,4,6,4,6 off the five deliveries he faced.
Taylor has been consistent during the tournament. His scores before this last game have been 40 against South Africa, 47 vs. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), 37 against The West Indies in Gayle’s record-breaking game, and 50 against Pakistan before taking Ireland for a blazing 121 at Hobart – a game they came to within inches of winning.
Still, I doubt anyone expected him to play such a scintillating and important knock against such a high-class opposition, staffed with a bowling attack that has been in such good form. It was a grand innings, played by a relatively obscure batsman on cricket’s biggest stage. It will be remembered for a long time.
Sadly for Taylor, his effort was not enough to secure a win for his team. Despite making early inroads with the new ball Zimbabwe could not force a victory. Indifferent bowling and ordinary catching allowed Suresh Raina and Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni to mount a blistering recovery that ensured a hard-fought victory.
Sadly for Zimbabwe this will be Taylor’s last match in his country’s colours. The wicketkeeper/batsman has signed a three-year kolpak contract to represent Nottinghampshire. This means he will be unavailable for Zimbabwe during that time. It was a decision made in sadness, the batsman said, but one he decided to make in the interest of his family. It is a pity that on the day he had his most glorious performance as a player, he had to say goodbye to his teammates and to the international game.