AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Brendan Taylor quit the international stage after 11 years with a flamboyant 138 in a valedictory innings which almost spurred Zimbabwe to a shock win over India at the Cricket World Cup on Saturday.
India won by six wickets to preserve its unbeaten record in Pool B but needed exceptional innings of 110 from Suresh Raina and 85 from M.S.Dhoni in an unbroken 196-run partnership to sneak home with eight balls remaining. The pair came together with India struggling on 92-4.
Taylor had silenced the throbbing drums and whistles of 30,000 Indian fans for more than 2 1/2 hours as he compiled his second consecutive century of this World Cup, the eighth and last of his distinguished international career.
He reached his century from 99 balls and went on to 138 from 110 deliveries as Zimbabwe made 287 in 48.5 overs after being sent in. Taylor then made his last walk from the crease to the dressing room in an international match amid respectful applause from his opponents and the echoing cheers of India’s fans.
Ultimately, those fans saw an India victory but they had many anxious moments before they were able to salute Raina’s fifth one-day international century and Dhoni’s 57th half century.
The pivotal moment may have been when Hamilton Masakadza dropped Raina when he was on 48 and India was 158-4 in the 35th over.
India’s run chase began badly when Tinashi Panyangara dismissed Rohit Sharma (16) and Shikhar Dhawan (4) in the same over to leave India 21-2. It struggled for runs against the nagging length of the Zimbawbe bowlers and lost Ajinkya Rahane, run out for 19, and Virat Kohli, bowled around his legs by Sikandar Raza for 38, as it stumbled to 98-4 in the 25th over.
Raina and Dohni came together in the 23rd over and formed India’s largest partnership of the tournament to send it unbeaten into the quarterfinals. The shackles were loosened when Raina hit two sixes from the bowling of Sean Williams in the 30th over and, by the 35th over, India was getting within range of its target, needing 131 from the last 15 overs.
Raina and Dhoni took 39 from the five overs of the batting power play, leaving 91 runs needed from the last 10 overs. Finally, Taylor was left without the win that might have fully crowned his career.
He won’t play for Zimbabwe again: he has decided at 29 — 11 years after his debut at 18 — to end his international career and take up a three-year contract with Nottinghamshire in the English county championships. While he will reflect with satisfaction on the achievements of his often turbulent years in the Zimbabwe team — including 167 one-day internationals and four centuries in 23 tests — he will likely remember with special fondness this sunlit afternoon at Eden Park.
Taylor became a star of the 2011 World Cup when he all but invented and certainly perfected the ramp shot to third man which is now a staple of one-day cricket. He employed that, as well as the reverse sweep, on Saturday but also played shots which were more conventional — flowing cover drives and vigorous pulls — as he hit 15 fours and five sixes in a sustained assault on India’s bowlers.
Taylor provided the substance of Zimbabwe’s innings in partnerships of 93 for the fourth wicket with Sean Williams (50) and 109 for the fifth with Craig Ervine (27) which lifted his team from 13-2 when he came to the crease in the fifth over to 235-5 when he left in the 42nd.
He was the less aggressive contributor to his first, stabilizing partnership with Williams. He came to the crease six overs before Williams but reached his half century only one ball before his partner: in 88 minutes from 64 balls while Williams achieved his in 62 minutes from 55 balls.
But Taylor was the driving force behind the innings from then on, providing 80 runs in his century stand with Ervine. That partnership marked the irresistible acceleration Taylor applied through the latter part of the innings: the pair put on their first 50 in 40 minutes from 54 balls, and their second 50 from 20 deliveries.
It was in that period, when he was at his most forceful and most creative, that Taylor completed his century from the 99th ball he had faced by ramping a short ball from Mohammed Shami over the short, third-man boundary for six.
Taylor and Ervine added 49 in the five overs of the batting power play and Taylor’s innings reached its peak when he took 24 runs — three fours and two sixes — from the last five balls of the 41st over bowled by Ravindra Jadeja.
The innings faltered when Taylor had gone and the last six wickets fell cheaply but Taylor’s influence over Zimbabwe’s performance was enormous, just as it has been for the past 11 years.