Monday, 2 November 2015

Making a mark

Monday, 2 November 2015
Three years came between James Taylor gaining his first two test caps, and winning his third this week. After today's performance, you have to wonder why it took so long. The selectors might pat themselves on the back for bringing in a man who has straight away performed in a crunch test match, but instead they should probably also ask themselves why they didn't do it sooner. Ask why it was that there were times when it felt like the only people in English cricket who weren't calling for his inclusion in this series were the ones actually making the decisions.

Admittedly, it would have been a tough ask to find a place for him in the side at the start of the series. Consistency is so often the theme for the test team, and though not all the batsmen were in stellar form, to drop someone like Buttler, Bell, or Bairstow could easily have been seen as a bit premature. But with the form Taylor has shown in the warm-ups, over the back end of the county season, in the ODI series against Australia, and now on his return to the test team - it does feel somewhat like a missed opportunity. Plus with all the talk from the England camp about Taylor being up there with Root as one of England's best players of spin, considering the conditions, it's a bit like there's been a gap in the selectors' logic somewhere along the way (I'll leave it to you to decide how big that gap is, and how often it appears). Oh, how hindsight can be a wonderful friend.

Regardless, judging by his performance with the bat today, it does seem bizarre that it's taken three years for him to finally make his third test appearance. He wasn't the complete player when he made his debut (after all, who ever is?), but he did nothing to disgrace himself before being discarded for the winter tour to India and beyond. Were the misgivings of Kevin Pietersen, saying that he was too short to play test cricket, shared by those at the ECB (a rare moment of agreement)? Whilst in the seasons that followed, Taylor was scoring more than he did in the year of his debut, he was still absent when the new era came, leapfrogged by others just as deserving. It's easy to point to his innings today and say he should have been featuring long beforehand, but it's also difficult to say when he should have been in the side, and who would have been left out instead.

But now his chance has come again, and already he's started to take it. His job is of course only partially done with 74* overnight, and how England will hope that he will really can on in the morning and make it a big score. Runs from the top order are especially crucial with Stokes a doubt to bat after hurting his shoulder in the field, though the inclusion of Samit Patel (in place of the rested Wood) does further lengthen that long, long lower order. There have been others, of course: Ian Bell, still scratchy, making a start with 40; Cook, with 49; Bairstow, 37* at the close and sharing an energetic unbeaten 83 run partnership with Taylor.

With a score of 222/4 at the close of play, just 12 runs behind Pakistan, England have a great chance to capitalise on the hard work of the bowlers on the opening day. Again it was James Anderson who led the way with four wickets, whilst Stuart Broad also picked up two - and together the pair conceded just 30 runs from 28.1 overs. It has become a common sight in this series to see the Pakistan batsmen attempt to see off the pace bowlers, before going on the attack when the spinners come on. It was the same case here, but perhaps this time they stalled just that bit too far and lost that instinct to score. Spin again proved more expensive, but they did take wickets (two each for Moeen and Patel) even when not always bowling well. Already, on the first day, the pitch was turning, and there was a lot to excite Pakistan and particularly Yasir Shah.

Certainly, tomorrow morning will be crucial for the outcome of the match. Come through unscathed, or at least with minimal loss of wickets, and England have a great chance to get something out of the series. If they can put Pakistan under the pressure of the scoreboard, and on a turning pitch, who knows what might happen. A third morning like they had in the previous test, however, and the match could easily swing back in Pakistan's favour, and the loss of the third seamer could prove crucial. Two days in, and the match looks interestingly poised.

Today though, was Taylor's day, and a happy day for all who like to see a player looking to make the most of a second chance. There will still be those who will reserve judgment until seeing him play on faster, bouncier pitches such as those in South Africa where England head next; but in a crucial test it's great to see someone come into the side and step up to the job straight away. But the job isn't over yet.

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