They were two good young batsmen knocking around the little New Zealand town of Masterton in the late 90s and back then no one was sure which was better. The first was Ross Taylor, the other was Jesse Ryder, five months younger, who lived in Carterton, 10 miles down the road. Ryder would open the batting and Taylor played in the middle order, No 4 or 5.
They stayed that way as they rose through the age grades, for Central Districts, the national academy and under-19 teams, right on up into the Test team, where, in 2009, they set a record on sharing a 271-run partnership against India in Napier. Ryder went on to make 201, Taylor 151.
Taylor has just finished his 112th and last Test; an innings victory over Bangladesh in Christchurch. Maybe you’ve seen the clips online, the honour guard as he came in to bat, the standing ovation as he walked off after being caught at square-leg for 28. Or the finish. Late on the third day, with Bangladesh nine wickets down in the second innings and still a hundred and plenty runs away from making New Zealand bat again, the crowd began to call out to the captain, Tom Latham, to bring Taylor on to bowl. Taylor hadn’t done that in a Test match in eight years, but he grinned and turned his arm over a couple of times in a mock warm-up.
Then fate intervened. The umpires decided New Zealand needed to bring a spinner on because the light was fading. “I guess that left one decision,” Latham said. He gave the ball to Taylor. Ebadot Hossain was batting, and, by his own standards, he was in nick After a run of 10 consecutive noughts, Hossain had just hit the first four of his Test career, off Kyle Jamieson, which made this his highest score for Bangladesh. He blocked Taylor’s first ball, patted back his second, then had an almighty heave at his third, which he hit high into the leg-side. Latham took the catch.
So Taylor’s last act in Test cricket was the match-winning wicket. “It couldn’t be scripted any better,” Latham said. It wasn’t the perfect finish. Taylor had passed that up six months earlier, when he hit the winning runs in New Zealand’s victory over India in the inaugural World Test Championship. But it was a good one, and fitting, because it ended with him grinning and being mobbed by his teammates. That’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 runs at 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 struck a century off 46 balls against West Indies. They called him up to the Test squad off the back of it, but dropped him again after he stayed out late drinking one evening.
New Zealand still wanted him in their World Cup team in 2015, until he pulled out of an A tour to the UAE for personal reasons. Ryder had all the talent, just as much as Taylor ever did, but he never could find a way around his problems.
Ryder was still playing first-class cricket for Central Districts in 2018. Then they cut him. After that he was working as a player-coach for Napier Technical Old Boys and led them to back-to-back national club titles, but the last time he was in the papers it was because he had been caught drunk-driving in March 2020.
Taylor and Ryder set on similar paths. Taylor is half-Samoan. The reason he has gone by Ross all these years is because his first headmaster couldn’t get his tongue around his first name, Luteru. “I guess there weren’t too many Polynesian kids in Masterton in those days,” he said. “After a while they gave up and said: ‘Just call him Ross.’”
Ryder is half-Māori. Both played their way up in the world after being talent spotted on the junior circuit, Taylor’s talents earned him a spot at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, and Ryder was sent to Napier Boys’ High School. But they ended up walking very different journeys.
They say Taylor had the advantage of a stable family around him and Ryder didn’t. Taylor had a strength, certainly, that helped him through the hard moments he faced along the way. He stepped away from international cricket in 2013 after he was sacked from the captaincy in late-2012 by Mike Hesson, in a row that split New Zealand cricket right down the middle. Taylor was averaging 50 at the time and had just hit 142 and 74 to win a Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Hesson always insisted he had meant to replace Taylor only as captain of the white-ball side, 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, who made two World Cup finals as well as winning that World Test Championship, in the years afterwards, it was partly because of the way Taylor was able to readjust.
After that he came through injuries, eye surgery and a slump in form to finish as New Zealand’s all-time leading run-scorer. He earned his happy ending.