If the Australian touring team want a few pointers on the best way best to take care of a febrile Edgbaston crowd during the following five days, they would do well to contemplate the experiences of Mark Taylor.
22 years back he had been right at the centre of the storm leading Australia to a Test match which has gone down in history as the loudest and most raucous Test match played in England.
However, along the way he found a way to carve out a century that broke the series, and helped to take the heat out of a problem that was threatening to engulf the group. 1-0 down but with righted the ship, Taylor’s men went on to claim the series, 3-2. Asked to recall how he dealt with an Edgbaston audience that was in tumult in day one, if the Australians were taken out for 118 was 50 for 8, Taylor had recollections that may well be applicable to Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in particular.
“Back in 1997 when I moved out to bat in that second innings, I made a conscious attempt to look at the crowd,” Taylor told ESPNcricinfo. “Once I looked around as I walked outside, I didn’t see people booing me and wanting to continue my slump. I saw folks, yes, needing England to win, but also saw people wanting good cricket. Maybe that is looking through rose-coloured eyeglasses, but I recall when I left my hundred into that match that I took my helmet off and I looked around and I could see people were really thrilled for me.
“They are the same crowd that’s going to be there on Thursday. Yes, sure they are going to bring in pieces of sandpaper and they are likely to speak about what happened in South Africa and what are you. And they’re going to hope that England are going to win the first Test. But in precisely the same time they are going to want to see some good cricket, that’s the way I have always looked at audiences, and therefore they haven’t actually worried me that much over the decades – that’s how I would be approaching it.”
Taylor is in England to commentate on the series for Nine, and was educated of 1997 through the unusual sleeping hours recognizable to an Australian just arrived in the united kingdom. “I woke up at 5am since I was a bit jetlagged and they were moving through Edgbaston Test matches. It got to 1997 and I saw it,” he explained. “The crowd, I did not realise they were loud, I don’t remember them being that loud.
“And if they won on the final afternoon, Alec Stewart hit Warney to the extra cover boundary, the crowd stormed onto the area , they were nuts. I didn’t keep in mind I just remembered thinking we had to improve. If your head’s in the crowd, it means you’re not worrying about your own game. I think Smithy, Warner and Cam Bancroftthey should not be considering the audience, they should be considering how they play their best cricket, and if they do this, they will keep that crowd quiet.”
As captain of Australia, Smith had recorded Taylor as one of his mentors, as well as the couple have maintained contact over the past year, vexed as it was by the conclusion of the Cricket Australia Board – where Taylor was then a member – to prohibit Smith and Warner for a year, and Bancroft for nine months.
“I think using Smithy, what he needs, and is still yearning for, is a large score,” Taylor stated. “We saw at the World Cup semi-final that he’s still a class player – that he looked a class above the rest in that innings. I think when he makes a large dent, hopefully in this series, that’ll be him completely back in the Australian side. There’s likely a part of him which would like to captain the side again, and he will, but I think he loves the game and enjoying the game so he’s happy enough for this point to be back.
“He’d really like to be making runs like he was 18 months ago. When he makes a major score and increases the bat for a Test match hundred, which will be a terrific sign for Australian cricket he is back. I think David Warner has already got himself back together with the World Cup, so Smithy now wants that big score to tick the last box.
“Talking to Steve Waugh, one of the things he noticed from this group and someone like Smithy is how many balls he hits, and that is one of the biggest differences he has seen with the training. In our day we’d net sessions and liked to hit balls, but nowhere close to the quantity of balls that someone like Steve Smith does. He’s in a different stratosphere in terms of ball hitting. He had a 45-minute web today, that is a massive net, that would be three nets from yesteryear – you used to have about 15 minutes.”
As an opening batsman, the 1997 century gave Taylor three from three in the first Tests of this series that he played with in England, also including 1989 and 1993. Those innings and their plight have left him believing that Warner and Bancroft may well be hoping to be sent into bat on Thursday, to get an opportunity to capitalise on nervous bowlers while also feeling such as the pressure is off them.
“Earning that hundred on day one at Headingley was huge for me and the group at the moment. AB went after the bowling, that helped, and I got a lot of confidence from the very fact that they sent us ,” Taylor said. “I’d like to love being delivered in as an opening batsman, because I always felt that took the pressure off me as a batsman, the resistance captain believes it is going to do lots, so they place you in. Straightaway the onus is on the bowling team to bowl you out, not necessarily you to create runs, even though this is your job.
“I batted out there using Boony and Swamp for a while and it didn’t do a great deal. It swung a little bit, then AB came in and took them on and before you knew it we had been two for 120 and I thought’hey that is going fine’. In 1993, there’d been a lot of rain around and they put us again, then Slats and I made runs to be 0 for 100.
More than two decades since the 1997 century, Taylor still carries the air that helped him as captain of Australia: jovial, confident but not arrogant, and conscious that life could be much worse than not making enough runs. “I have tried to watch cricket as a game,” he said.
“Whether Australia wins or loses the Ashes isn’t going to change the world”
“I remember Rick McCosker said the me at Newcastle Sports Ground in roughly my second season:’only remember it is a game’. That is exactly what it is. It could be all-consuming occasionally and I’ve even felt that in the last couple of years on the board. But you’ve got to remember you’re talking about a game of cricket. Individuals should be enjoying this, players should be loving it, lovers are supposed to be loving it, and it is not anything more than that.
“Whether Australia wins or loses the Ashes isn’t likely to change the entire world. So when I walked away from games of cricket during my slump, I would go home for my wife and, I wouldn’t laugh , but there wasn’t any reason why I had been making low scores. My eyes were OK, my fitness was OK, my spouse wasn’t leaving me, my kids were not sick, there was not anything I could put my finger that indicates I shouldn’t be creating runs. Eventually, fortunately at Edgbaston I did make runs.”
Obviously, by 1997, the Australians were full of memories of beating England in the previous four series, a history that imbued them with confidence.
“England had rebel tours going on and all of a sudden they had been in disarray. We belted them again in Australia, came in 1993 and belted them again here. All of a sudden we were getting bigger and larger and England were hoping to regroup.
“By the end of the 1990s they had been playing better, 1997 was a nearer series. But we had this notion, even with me playing badly at the start, that we were going to beat them, even 1-0 we had this belief, and England did not have the belief that they were going to beat us. It was only in 2005 if Michael Vaughan’s team turned it around in a significant way and beat an excellent Australian side. I didn’t think England would beat Australia until 2009, yet they won in’05.
“England have experienced belief since then that at least here in this country. There is a good deal of discuss the pitches as well as the chunks, a lot of those things to me are nearly red herrings. It is who’s going to play the greater cricket and win these huge sessions. Nonetheless, it’s changing the belief in their head as far as anything. I believe they have got the ability to win this series and win it nicely. But they’ve got to believe it. They won’t be thinking about 2001 and not winning since, but they’ll be thinking are we good enough to beat this England team. I believe they are.”