Cricket is tough when you're on the road so often. It's nice to have someone that you're close to that reminds you of home, says Taylor. © AFP

Cricket is tough when you’re on the road so often. It’s nice to have someone that you’re close to that reminds you of home, says Taylor. © AFP

When you reach the summit on which the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Pavilion hotel is perched, a chroma key blue sky dotted by a few stray clouds greets you. This picnic-like weather might be lost, though, on Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill, who I am making an uphill trek to meet to discuss their friendship on and off the field. Both have struggled in the Tests, which New Zealand lost 3-0 to India. The last time I interviewed a cricketer who wasn’t in form, I dealt with a prickly, uncommunicative individual who even answered my hello-pleased-to-meet-you greeting with a noncommittal grunt, so I mentally prepare myself for two potentially prickly, uncommunicative individuals.

Turns out I needn’t have.

They immediately walk over to say hello and apologise for the overzealous hotel security, whose interrogation of me was more thorough than anything I’ve encountered even at an airport. They embarrassedly explain that they are not used to that sort of thing back home either. And, just like that, you can’t help but like them.

When informed that they can be as casual as they please during this chat, Taylor breaks into a grin, and glances at Guptill before pointing out, “Then you should know he doesn’t speak proper English so this might not work.”

“Started,” responds Guptill with a knowing smile and a shake of the head.

***

The two met each other in 2005 when they were at the New Zealand Cricket Academy in Christchurch. The teams would usually have a mix of fringe first-class players along with those who had played for the country. Taylor would make his One-Day International debut the following year; Guptill, two years his junior, would have to wait a while longer.

What’s the thing that stood out when you first met each other?
Taylor: His red hair.

Guptill: Definitely Ross’s big lips.

Both laugh loudly enough to attract the attention of the waiter on the other side of the otherwise empty restaurant we’re in. This, the waiter learns, will keep happening for the next one hour.

Taylor: He was quite a skinny lad. The amount of power that he had – I had never really seen someone hit from a solid base as well as he did straight. As we see today, it’s one of his shots, whether it’s off a fast bowler or a spinner. I guess from there on, you take an interest. I don’t know if I scored any runs, but I think he got a couple of fifties during the academy games. I guess someone that you see grow up, the progress, that gives you some satisfaction as well.

Guptill: Ross is bit of a practical joker and he has always been that way. He likes to make a few jokes around the guys and give a bit of stick to people as well. He is still like that 11 years later, but now that we’re closer he tends to shift all that attention to me and gives me the most stick. I’m trying to give back as much as I can, but he can be quite quick-witted sometimes.

People pay good money to get lips like this, Taylor informs Guptill when he takes a potshot at the size of his lips. © AFP

People pay good money to get lips like this, Taylor informs Guptill when he takes a potshot at the size of his lips. © AFP

Their paths crossed again when Guptill made his ODI debut against West Indies in January 2009 in his hometown of Auckland. The scorecard shows he hit an unbeaten 122, the then second-highest score by a batsman on debut after Desmond Haynes. Guptill shared a 144-run partnership for the third wicket with Taylor, who made 75. The match ended in a no-result because of rain, but it wasn’t a complete damp squib. To badly paraphrase JK Rowling, there are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and sharing a century stand in one man’s debut game is one of them.

What do you recall about that day?
Taylor: Regardless of who it is, every time a player comes in and makes a debut, you always get a bit nervous for the player. Whether it’s a bowler or a batter. And I was nervous for him. There were a couple of half-chances.

Guptill: I got dropped four times. [three times]

Taylor: Before I even got out to bat, I think!

Guptill: There were a couple when you were out there [one drop while Taylor was batting].

Taylor: Once he got into the groove, he was pretty good. For a guy playing his first game, I thought he was pretty calm. It was around the time we had Power Plays … you really didn’t know when they were taking them. I remember they took it, and I told him I’ll try to slog out, I’ll go big and let him get his hundred on his debut. To bring up a hundred with a six on your home ground is something I’ll never forget. I’m sure Martin will never forget that, how special an innings it was for him. I think it propelled him to be one of our greatest-ever one-day players. He’s got a lot more cricket to play, but I’m sure he’ll break more records in time.

Guptill: I was probably in a little bubble and not giving Ross a lot, to be honest. It was just one of those things when you get into a groove, a partnership, it sort of grows, doesn’t it? You don’t worry about too much outside of what’s going on out in the middle.

So the friendship was instant after that?
Taylor: He was very quiet and I was pretty quiet myself. I guess we gravitated towards each other. We’re right-handers, we bat at the top of the order, and more often than not, we bat at training together.

When you get to know someone on a personal level, you get to see who they are off the field. Martin really loves his family and his friends. Cricket is tough when you’re on the road so often. It’s nice to have someone that you’re close to that reminds you of home.

Also, I think I was the only one laughing with his jokes!

Guptill: Just so you know, it can be hard standing at second slip next to him because he doesn’t shut up sometimes, and some of his jokes can be pretty poor.

Alright, so you’ve seen each other bat quite a bit now. What do you admire about the other’s game?
Taylor: It’s how still he is when he hits the ball straight in the air. It’s an art. I don’t think it’s just me who would like to do that; a lot of the players in the team would like to be able to hit with that power and especially in the white-ball format. It becomes intimidating for a bowler to bowl to, especially to someone who’s opening the batting. It sets the tone for the team. If I try to do that, I think I’ll hit it straight up in the air, but that is definitely one of Martin’s strengths.

Guptill: I’d love it if I had his cut shot. He can hit that off leg stump sometimes. He got a hundred in Dubai against Pakistan two years ago. He was caning spinners off that leg stump. It’s a pretty tough place to play cricket and he got a Test hundred. I watched that because I was in Dubai the same time as him but with the New Zealand A team playing some one-dayers. To witness that, it’s pretty special. He’s also got a pretty good slog sweep. He needs to play it more, I reckon.

***

Taylor and Guptill admit it's tough being an introvert and shy when you're in a sports environment, but over time they've come out of their shell. © Wisden India

Taylor and Guptill admit it’s tough being an introvert and shy when you’re in a sports environment, but over time they’ve come out of their shell. © Wisden India

Taylor and Guptill are self-confessed, card-carrying introverts, which is a tough thing to be in a sports environment. And if you’re shy in addition to being an introvert, as is the case with both of them, it’s even more difficult. You’re told, loud and often, by other people (read extroverts) to speak up and stop being so aloof. I can relate to this and I narrate an incident of how I was rehearsing a question ten times in my head to ask Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the press conference earlier that day, but by the time I raised my hand the Indian media manager signaled that there was no time for any more questions. Taylor and Guptill laugh heartily at that before the former confesses that sounds a lot like how he was at school. He tells me it’s alright, it gets easier with time, and the trick is to have a bit of self-belief and courage.

How was it for the both of you and how long did it take for the other person to be courageous?
Taylor: Most of the time, it’s hard to give a lot in the media. Cricket is a hard game, travel and all that stuff. If you ask us a question, we would answer as honestly as we can, but outside the game, you need to be yourself.

Some people, they just are naturally outgoing. Guppy and I are both very quiet. In cricket, like most professional sports, if you’re quiet, it’ll be a pretty daunting place. Being shy, sometimes the media and social media can be very intimidating too. I think he’s definitely come out of his shell and is a lot more confident. You get to see a bit more of his personality. His tweets and his Instagram are still pretty poor. But I couldn’t tell you what to do with Instagram, I’m not even on it. He’s come out of his shell and I think that’s helped his cricket as well.

Guptill: I think Ross’s stint as captain really helped him in the media. He’s a lot more confident speaking amongst the team. We’re both pretty shy.

Taylor: All that probably doesn’t come naturally to us.

Guptill: Yeah, exactly. I’ve come from a small family so talking in front of people is something I’ve never had to do growing up. Seeing Ross go through that and how much more confident he is talking to the media and in front of the team as well was pretty cool to see.

Guptill and Taylor get along fantastically well and their families are close too - their friendship certainly won't end with cricket. © Wisden India

Guptill and Taylor get along fantastically well and their families are close too – their friendship certainly won’t end with cricket. © Wisden India

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from each other?
Taylor: I think it’s got to be something to do with fashion. He rates himself. When I first met Guppy, his fashion sense was nonexistent. In fact, his wife …

Guptill: Where have I heard this one before? Oh yeah, it’s your wedding speech. Your best man speech.

Taylor: His wife has turned him into a very fashionable, dapper individual.

Guptill: Mine is probably to drink coffee, I reckon.

Taylor: No, teaching him properly about red wine and food. He is so fussy. Very fussy with his food.

Guptill: I am better now, though. He only says this because whenever I go to his house for a barbecue, in the salad he always puts red onions. And he knows I don’t like red onions. Then he says I’m fussy.

Taylor: Very fussy. If you put something on his plate, he never eats the whole plate. He always pushes it out of the way, even if he likes it. He always pushes it to the side, whether it’s, I dunno, tomatoes …

Guptill: I love tomatoes. What are you talking about?

Taylor: He will push it to the side, with a little bit of onion in there.

Aside from cricket, what do you bond over?
Guptill: We are very big fans of Nandos and if there is ever a discussion which we are struggling on, we just go to Nandos. I always talk about property too. I like to have to look at different houses around and see what we both like and chat a bit about that.

Taylor: He owns half of Auckland.

Guptill: He owns three quarters of Hamilton.

Whenever I go to his house for a barbecue, in the salad he always puts red onions. And he knows I don't like red onions. Then he says I'm fussy, explains Guptill though Taylor is not the least bit convinced he isn't fussy. © AFP

Whenever I go to his house for a barbecue, in the salad he always puts red onions. And he knows I don’t like red onions. Then he says I’m fussy, explains Guptill though Taylor is not the least bit convinced he isn’t fussy. © AFP

What are you on the opposite sides of the fence then?
Taylor: I’ve got dark hair and he’s got red hair!

Besides that …
Guptill: Umm, what do we disagree on? I think most of our arguments would probably be over food.

Taylor: The red onion thing – he is so fussy with food. That’s why we probably have go to Nandos. I tell him to try oysters and all these exotic foods, but when he finds something he likes he goes back to it and continues to have it.

Guptill: That’s rich.

Taylor: And if we open a bottle of white wine, he would never have white wine. Not sparkling, not champagne.

Guptill: I don’t like white wine.

Taylor: Do you see that? He doesn’t like white wine, he doesn’t like champagne. Fussy.

Explain the running joke about getting seated next to each other on the plane.
Guptill: It’s just I have to get him first before he does. I think I’ve done that two or three times.

Taylor: It’s the same joke every time. It’s not that funny.

That’s it? No deeper, Inception-level punchline?
Taylor: Nope. The funny thing is it’s Guptill and Taylor. It’s not as if it’s alphabetical. We just get put next to each other a lot on the plane. He always puts that on Twitter and he always gets a snap chat going, ‘This guy, again. I’d rather sit next to someone else.’ Every time, every time. He did that even when it was my birthday!

What’s the most annoying thing about the other person? And you can’t say red onions.
Taylor: Oh, I’m jumping in here first. He keeps throwing stuff because he always has tape on his fingers. He might have had a bruise, a broken nail or something. He’ll tape that up. Anytime he would take it off – I’m minding my business – he hits me on the head with it (mimics being hit on the head with a piece of tape). If he eats something like that (points to a candy wrapper), he’ll throw it anywhere. Sometimes he tries to blames it on someone else.

Guptill: I get away with it sometimes.

Martin, you need to come up with a good comeback here.
Taylor: He has got nothing on me.

Guptill: I’m deciding which one. Okay, when he is jet-lagged, he sleeps at stupid, ridiculous hours. He’s not one to get into the time zone quickly. I can remember when we went to the Caribbean to play in the CPL (Caribbean Premier League). It was the first year in 2013. We (Guyana Amazon Warriors) played Trinidad (& Tobago Red Steel) in the first game in Guyana. Ross came down and he was still pretty jet-lagged. I text him: Coming out for lunch? I didn’t get a reply for six hours – he was obviously asleep. And he didn’t get to sleep that night till about 3am and we had a game the next day.

Taylor: It’s not one of my strengths. Even when I came here, I fell asleep. I can’t stop falling asleep.

Guptill shoots me a you-see-what-I-have-to-deal-with look.

***

This has been a tough tour so far, but it's about being true to yourself and true to what Martin Crowe said, says Taylor. © AFP

This has been a tough tour so far, but it’s about being true to yourself and true to what Martin Crowe said, says Taylor. © AFP

Life, Taylor and Guptill know, is not just about laughing over red onions and jet lag. They’re acutely aware of the criticism levelled against them this tour. But, like siblings who will always have a crack at each other’s expense, if someone else tries the same, they’ve got each other’s backs.

Ross, what do you have to say about Martin’s lack of success in Test cricket?
Taylor: It’s definitely not about the lack of trying. One of Guppy’s strengths is he trains very hard. He trained hard in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He trained hard here. But it is a tough place to tour. The teams that have toured here in the last couple of years have struggled. We were disappointed with the way we went about our game and we can’t get away from that. But behind the scenes, he tried a lot. Sometimes this game of cricket goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t, and it didn’t this time.

Martin, what’s your take on the insinuation that Ross only performs against smaller Test-playing nations and can’t score against the bigger teams?
Guptill: I don’t think you can really say that. It was only last December he got 290 against Australia.

Barring that …
Guptill: Barring that, he has scored a hundred against nearly every nation that plays Test cricket. He’s got an average in the mid to late 40s for a reason. He works hard, he is always in the nets trying to improve on little things and go that extra mile to succeed out in the middle and score those big runs. When the ball is spinning that much and when you just came out to the middle and it’s doing that, it’s quite tough. But Ross has scored hundreds here before. Last Test here, he got a hundred in Bangalore. It was a captain’s knock and we needed it because we were in a bit of trouble. He pulled through and played a very mature innings. It’s all there. So you can’t say he doesn’t step up.

A hush falls over our table as I bring up the topic of Martin Crowe, the former New Zealand captain and their mentor who passed away in March this year. ‘Mentor’ is putting it too simply, though. Taylor and Guptill, who have been entirely animated during the conversation up till now, start stumbling over words. All of a sudden, I can hear the tinkering of utensils in the background in between their pauses. A few days from now, I will hear some journalists who’ve never played international cricket make a snide comment about their lack of form. Recalling this dialogue, I’ll remember a lack of form can be redeemed, a lack of grace not so much.

How big of an impact did Martin Crowe have on your careers?
Guptill: Quite a big impact. I started with him in 2014. I sort of wasn’t in the Test squad and I wasn’t scoring as many white-ball runs as I would’ve liked. They had to make some changes and he helped a hell of a lot. Not only with the technical side of the game but also the mental side and getting things back on track. Those talks that we had and those training sessions we had together were invaluable. I was very lucky and very privileged to have had that time with him.

Taylor: He had such a big influence on my career. Not only on my career, we became friends off the field. I guess you miss that. And you miss the time when you are out of form. He would always send a lovely message to get you out of the funk. But, before he passed away, he said you’ve got all the knowledge and the things that you need. In the next couple of months, hopefully I can show that.

What’s the best memory the three of you shared together?
Guptill: It was the night before my wedding.

Taylor: He forgot his wallet so I had to pay for dinner.

Guptill: It was not the first time I had to. It was Ross, myself, Martin and one of my brothers-in-law, and we went to a little local Italian restaurant in Kohimarama. We were having a great night just talking about everything really, not much about cricket. It was just one of those nights you’ll never forget. Good red wine, good friends, and great chat and laughter. I’m pretty sure everyone else in the restaurant was sick of us by the end of it because a few times there was raucous laughter coming from our table. Cherish those memories forever.

Before he passed away, Martin Crowe reinforced what he taught us and what we learned over time is enough, and to trust yourself that you're good enough and you know enough to get you through the tough times, says Taylor. © Getty Images

Before he passed away, Martin Crowe reinforced what he taught us and what we learned over time is enough, and to trust yourself that you’re good enough and you know enough to get you through the tough times, says Taylor. © Getty Images

He wrote a column ahead of the 2015 World Cup final referring to you two: “To see the two sons I never had, Ross Taylor and Marty Guptill, run out in black, in sync with their close comrades, drawing on all their resolve and resilience, will be mesmerically satisfying.” What did that mean to the both of you?
Taylor: I got sent it a couple of days before the World Cup final. It was a pretty emotional moment, it got a bit teary in the changing room. He always wanted us to make the final and go one step further than he was able to in the 1992 World Cup. We didn’t win and it was disappointing, but one thing I’ll never forget was he was doing some studio work at the final and he was there. As we were walking off the field, he gave us both a big hug and we walked down the ramp at the MCG. He came into the changing room and had some wine. It was something that I’ll never forget. I think he would’ve been proud that we went one step further than he did. We would’ve loved to win it, but Australia were the better team on the day.

Guptill: It was a very special moment. We were at training two days before the final. I finished training and looked at my phone and saw it. It was pretty special and it brings a tear to the eye thinking about it. Thinking about it now, you sort of just wish he was still here. So we can share these moments with him. I’m sure he’s still watching down on us every game.

Taylor: I think what a lot of people really don’t know is some of the articles that he wrote about us was him – in an indirect way – reminding us about what to do and achieve. We got the direct messages, but sometimes you see the indirect messages in a different light and it’s a little bit easier. You’re in your own little bubble and you get so many messages from everyone. He would get his messages through his articles – he was very articulate – on what we needed to do. The reader might not have known, but we did.

Now, you’ve said that some of your best innings came about after getting advice from Martin Crowe the night before. How tough has it been on the both of you not to be able to ring him up for some guidance?
Taylor: It’s probably been a little bit strange playing Test cricket and not having the text messages we used to have. When we found out that the illness was terminal, we always knew that the time would come. I had lunch with him a week and a half before he passed away. He just reinforced what he taught us and what we learned over time is enough, and to trust yourself that you’re good enough and you know enough to get you through the tough times. We try to train as hard as we can and give ourselves the best chance of performing. This has been a tough tour so far, but it’s about being true to yourself and true to what Martin said. There’s going to be times when we’re going to score runs and there’s going to be times when we’re not going to score runs so I guess it’s about the longer we stay in good form and the less that we stay in bad form. Hopefully we can do that for a few more years before we retire.

Guptill: It is tough. He was always offering up his advice, we never had to ask for it. There would always be a message when we got our phones after the game. He’d always be the first one, Hogan (Crowe’s nickname), with the message. Whether you scored runs or not, he’d always say something. It is different not having that anymore, but – this sort of almost sounds bad – mostly you have to move on. If you think about it too much, it can get a little bit emotional so you just got to get on and just know that what he’s taught you is still working and just keep reinforcing that.

***

It’s not long before they’re pulling each other’s legs again. This time it’s over an acrostic poem I ask them to write on each other. Guptill says he’s glad he doesn’t have to write Ross’s full name – Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor – but Ross mentions he’s struggling without words like S and B in Guptill’s name.

“He likes to swear in Hindi,” explains Guptill.

As if we didn’t know.

 


More hilarity ensues when they read their poems out loud. Guptill wants to clarify what he meant about the dancing.

“Case in point, he was horrendous on my wedding day,” he says.

“I go with the flow,” fires back Taylor. “And hey, people pay good money to get lips like this!”

What do you think is each other’s greatest achievement on and off the field?
Taylor: Oh, off it is pretty simple for him. His wife. He’s punching above his weight. I’m not quite sure if she’s got something wrong with her eyes …

But on the cricket field, I don’t think anyone would forget 237 not out in the World Cup, packed house in the quarterfinals in Wellington. We have small boundaries in New Zealand, but that’s probably our biggest ground. Some of the sixes he was hitting were clearing the boundaries by a long way and a couple of them ended up on the roof as well. That was pretty impressive.

Guptill: Definitely his kids Mackenzie and Jonty. He really loves them. Every time I knock on the door to see what he’s doing, he’s always Face-Timing them.

On the field, definitely his two wickets against India!

No, there are so many highlights though. There’s the 290 in Perth last year. What a lot of other people might have forgotten is the 142 he scored against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2012. We lost two wickets in probably the first two overs and had our backs to the wall. We’d already got beaten in Galle. He had a 200-300-run [260-run] partnership with Kane (Williamson). To get us back in the game and get us over 400 in the first innings – we ended up winning the game. And I think there was 70-odd [74] in the second innings. It was one of the greatest two innings I’ve seen in those conditions for a New Zealander. It was very special to watch.

While Guptill would love to have Taylor's cut shot, Taylor admires how still Guptill is when he hits the ball straight in the air. © Getty Images

While Guptill would love to have Taylor’s cut shot, Taylor admires how still Guptill is when he hits the ball straight in the air. © Getty Images

What would you like to see the other achieve before they hang up their boots in cricket?
Guptill: Ross, he’s already past Hogan in Test runs, he’s got two more centuries to go to catch him. To go past him and get to 20 would be a pretty special feat and he’d be the first New Zealander to do that. I know he’s going to do it. It’ll happen in the next couple of years so I’m looking forward to seeing that.

Taylor: I’ll go a slightly different route and say I hope he’s still playing international cricket at 36 or 37. He’s 30 now. We don’t have a great history of retaining our players for a long period of time. A lot of New Zealand players in the past retired a few years earlier than a lot of players in other teams. If Gup can still play for New Zealand at 36 or 37, maybe he can still be playing at the 2023 World Cup. He’d ideally have the most runs for New Zealand and be pretty close to breaking a lot of records. As we’ve seen in the past, it’s not necessarily the great players that win World Cups, it’s the experienced ones. You go through a lot of World Cups in the past and it’s been the experience that gets them through. More so than star players.

What do you envision your friendship to be like after cricket?
Taylor: As I am retiring before Martin, I look forward to him paying for dinner and buying drinks because he paid for one coffee back in 2007. I think we talk to a lot of players and a lot of times they miss the camaraderie of the team dressing room. I’m sure when we do retire, we’re going to miss that. But it’ll be nice to spend time with his family. I’m sure we’ll go over some innings and games. Those are the things that will stay with you. That will be no different with us. We’re going to spend a lot of time with each other and I’ll probably still beat him in golf, bowling, darts and pool.

Guptill: I think that we’ll still be good friends. Our families are very close as well. Our wives are always texting each other and keeping in touch. Maybe we’ll all go on some holidays overseas. They’ll be quite glad if we end up doing that.

So would you ever consider becoming neighbors one day like Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher?
Taylor: We live in different cities now. But it depends. If it’s his wife Laura picking flowers and stuff to go around the garden, maybe. If he’s choosing it then no, I don’t want to be anywhere close to it.