Monday, 22 June 2015

A forgotten figure?

Monday, 22 June 2015
For all this talk of a 'new era' (and really, it's hard not to write about it that way), there is one man who seems to have been left behind. Despite being part of the squad for the recent ODI series James Taylor failed to get a game, leapfrogged by the new kids on the block. It's not the first time it has happened to him, often being one of those players who seems to come into the side for a few games, before disappearing again and being lost in a sea of change.

For me, James Taylor was one of the few to come out of England's ODI winter in any credit. When finally given a game in Sri Lanka after Alastair Cook's over-rate suspension, he quickly made his mark with two half centuries at number three. Two more followed as England played the tri-series against Australia and India in preparation for the World Cup, and it looked as if he had that number three spot nailed down for the tournament. It was then a surprise, and another indicator of England's cautious and muddled thinking, when come the first match Gary Ballance filled the spot at three and Taylor was pushed down the order. England duly fell to 92/6, and all Taylor could do was make a doomed situation look slightly more respectable with an innings of 98*. Maybe it would have made all the difference for him if he had completed that century, instead denied in a most farcical manner (something I will complain about for as long as anyone will listen). Despite being a lost cause, Taylor's innings offered invention and excitement, a touch of flair, and also showed he wasn't a player to give in easily. Sure, the runs dried up afterwards - but that was really the case of the whole team. From a 25 year old batsman, there was enough to show that he had a lot to offer England in the future.

So it was a surprise come the first ODI against New Zealand to see Sam Billings get the nod ahead of Taylor. The move was understandable, given the new batting order: Root taking the number three spot and Morgan at four, allowing Stokes to slot back in at five and Buttler to move up to six where they could have more of an impact. Seven would be too low for someone like Taylor, and Billings had after all been another of the outstanding batsmen in 50 over cricket last year. But then it was even more surprising when a spot opened up with Buttler's injury - and instead of Billings taking on the gloves, Bairstow was called upon from outside the squad. Of course, Bairstow went on to win the match for England (and I'm always glad to see him in the side), and Billings did the job with him. It all paid off for England, but Taylor would have some right to feel frustrated, left on the sidelines again. Yet there's no obvious solution, no player obviously deserving to be dropped in his favour.

Taylor though often seems to be the forgotten man, a player toyed with by England and then swiftly put back on the shelf. His first two ODI appearances came two years apart, featuring in experimental sides against Ireland as an option for the future. He may not have made the runs, but it was hardly a real chance to state his case. When his test debut came in 2012 it was overshadowed by one of the many installments in the Kevin Pietersen drama, the match of the famous 'it's tough being me' press conference. Taylor's score of 34 - not enough to set the world alight, but a valuable contribution nonetheless - was almost forgotten in all that followed. After playing the next test, he was gone again, not even in the squad for the winter tours and missing from the longest form ever since. It was a tiny window of opportunity, one he might have made more of - but not enough to write him off.

When Taylor's name comes up in discussion, question marks around his height inevitably follow. But that shouldn't be a reason not to pick him in the side. Maybe I'm biased, being a rather tiny person myself, but simply being short shouldn't be enough to stop someone being an international cricketer. You need only look at Sachin Tendulkar for that - obviously Taylor is no Tendulkar, but there is the proof that it's not impossible. A lot of cricket, and especially test cricket, is about character, a player's mental strength as well as their skill and technique. And for me, Taylor's shown the signs that he can succeed in that respect - already he has played the sort of innings where he has to knuckle down and fight for England in difficult situations. Should he pile on the runs in the County Championship (not really at his best in 2014 or so far this year), there's no reason why he shouldn't be given another go in the longer format should a spot in the middle order open up. They won't know unless they try him.

But it's not like it's the end of his career. He is still, of course, included in the ODI squad and clearly still present in the minds of the selectors. With the teams for all formats still in their early stages, it's not like there won't be opportunities for anyone who can state their case. And after all, it was just a few matches ago that Taylor was leading England in Ireland, his leadership potential long recognised through matches with the Lions as well. It may just be the simple matter that his form hasn't quite picked up so far this year, players picked on what they're doing now rather than what has come before. While he may be forgotten for now, he's far from in the wilderness. There's a lot more to come, a lot Taylor can be a part of.

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