When Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor, better known to you and I as the current New Zealand captain Ross Taylor, seriously began to veer away from hockey to cricket in the Wellington suburb of Wairarapa, the population of the entire region had not yet hit the 20,000 mark. Today, when Taylor swishes his blade with refreshing ferocity for the Delhi Daredevils, well in excess of 40,000 people pack the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi. Taylor, still only 28, and with plenty of cricket ahead of him, has already come a long way, literally and figuratively, thanks to the game. Taylor tells Wisden India what it's like to be a torch bearer for New Zealand in the IPL.
Has your participation in the IPL shown people back home that there's a future in cricket?
You hope that people back in New Zealand see that there is now a good future in cricket. There is a definite career path in playing cricket and a good living to be made. In New Zealand, rugby is first by a long way and I'm not sure this is something that is ever going to change. Most kids dream of being an All Black. But now, they can see that there's value in playing for New Zealand, and an IPL contract doesn't hurt.
The IPL and the glitz surrounding it are dramatically different from what you're used to at home. How do you deal with this?
That's the nice thing about playing international cricket - testing yourself out in different conditions. It's not just the pitch and the weather, but also the atmosphere at grounds, the cities you're in. Playing at home you get accustomed to certain things, because that's what you've grown up with. When you play away, you're taken out of your comfort zone, whether it's the bouncier wickets of Australia or turning tracks in the subcontinent. It makes you a better player. The atmosphere in India is completely different from New Zealand when it comes to crowds. You can walk around New Zealand and although people recognise you as a cricketer, they don't usually want a photo with you or an autograph. In India, it's the complete opposite. It's nice to be recognised and meet different people and try and take it a bit further.
How much of a following does the IPL enjoy in New Zealand?
The fans don't follow it as much as would be ideal. In the first year, we played just a few games. You sort of need New Zealand players to be taking part full time to get New Zealanders to follow. The time difference doesn't help and in the last couple of years, the games haven't been live on TV. This year, the early games weren't on TV but the rest are. After this year there should be a better following. A bit more of an understanding of its players, where they're playing, what they're doing.
What's the biggest thing you take away from playing in the IPL?
One of the best things about the IPL is the manner in which you relate to other international stars and Indian stars. When you're playing a series against someone, you just can't get to know them as you do in the IPL. There are things you just don't get from merely playing against someone. Hopefully people learn a lot from their experience in the IPL and take that back with them to New Zealand. That's the way cricket back home can benefit from our participation in the IPL. Getting experience in these conditions is always going to help. As captain of the New Zealand team, I would definitely be looking at the guys who're playing in the IPL to step it up when we play the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka.
The IPL has been criticised for adding a lot of playing days to an already packed calendar. It's blamed for player burn out, and even players choosing club over country. How do the positives stack up against the negatives?
You have to look at the balance. The IPL does add playing days to your calendar which could cause injuries or wear and tear, but you look at someone like Aaron Finch, and he's sharing the dressing room with Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen and Mahela Jayawardene. That's the kind of education you can't get anywhere outside the IPL. I could reel off the examples. For me, the positives outweigh the negatives by a long way.
Has playing T20 cricket, and the IPL in particular, had a knock-on effect in freeing things up in other formats?
My Test game has helped my T20 game, and my T20 game has helped me in different situations. Especially for a batsman there is enough room to not just play all three formats of the game but to thrive at them. You use different skill aspects and learn how to deploy them when needed. I'm learning a lot along the way and the captaincy helps with the way I bat. The little bit of extra responsibility that I put on my shoulders seems to have the effect of bringing out the best in me. I still have a lot to learn but captaining your country is an honour and a privilege.
India has become a hot destination for international cricketers thanks to the IPL. Do you see yourself coming back for anything other than cricket?
Oh, the friends you make at the teams you play in are for life. I've stayed in touch with my teammates from Bangalore, Rajasthan and now Delhi, one way or another, whether it's through email or the odd text message. You come over here to play cricket, earn a good living, experience new cultures and all that's good. But what really makes the difference for me is the friendships with other players. They're going to continue a lot longer than cricket. Cricket has been good to me and India has been good to me, I probably owe it to the game and the country to come back here and do something when I'm done playing. Hopefully there's a few good years left in me yet, though.
Anand Vasu is Managing Editor, Wisden India