Tuesday, 12 April 2016

James Taylor

Tuesday, 12 April 2016
Today came with the shocking and sad news that James Taylor has been forced to retire from cricket after being diagnosed with ARVC (Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy), a serious heart condition. Whilst there is a relief at the condition being caught now, often presenting itself when already too late, it still brings a sad end to a career of a man who - just 26 years old - still had a lot more to deliver.

Taylor had a bright career from its very beginning, being awarded the Young Wisden Schools Cricketer of the Year in 2008 and the following year being the PCA Young Player of the Year after scoring 1,207 first class runs for Leicestershire, only 19 years old. Call ups to the England Lions team soon followed and in 2012 he also captained the team, a recognition of his leadership qualities as well as talent with the bat. The weight of runs continued at his county - 1,602 first class runs in 17 matches in 2011 - and it was only a matter of when that full England cap would come.

That moment came in 2011, an ODI in Ireland as part of a largely inexperienced side. His first test cap came a year later, that match famously overshadowed by the drama surrounding Kevin Pietersen. Taylor hit an almost unnoticed, yet important, 34 runs in partnership with Pietersen, yet by the end of the summer seemed forgotten again and was passed over for England's tour of India. Two tests against South Africa and two ODIS against Ireland - two years also between those matches - hardly seemed to represent a fair chance, yet other batsmen moved ahead of Taylor in the pecking order.

But Taylor took his next chance. Coming in for Alastair Cook in an ODI in Sri Lanka, Taylor scored 90 and followed it up with 68 in the next game. Whilst England crumbled in the first match of the World Cup, Taylor showed his fighting spirit with 98* - harshly missing out on a century when Anderson was incorrectly run out at the other end. That maiden century came later in the year, against the same opposition, with Taylor scoring 246 runs across the five match series. His return to the test team in Pakistan came with a maiden test fifty, and as he showed himself to be one of England's most effective players of spin, many were left wondering why he hadn't been picked sooner.

Against South Africa again, Taylor's 70 on Boxing Day was one of the most important, if underrated, innings of the series. A partnership of 125 was shared with Nick Compton, taking England from their precarious position at 49/3 to 174/4, and helping pave the way for an opening victory. Though runs were harder to come by after that first test, Taylor's fielding at short leg during the series was also important to the team success - including two spectacular catches as England tore through South Africa at the Wanderers.

With his recent ODI successes, it seemed a harsh call when Taylor was dropped for the one-dayers that followed, even if one eye was on preparations for the upcoming World Twenty20 competition. It was another harsh call to add to a list of harsh calls that seemed to follow Taylor throughout his England career - dropped after hardly having a chance to impress, dropped after having a chance and impressing. Though a significant career looked surely to come, the one he had might have been something more. Questions - somewhat tiresomely - always came around his height, but Taylor was a fighter, always working hard and showing the mental qualities to succeed; something you can control, unlike your size.

That's what Taylor is, a fighter, who now faces his toughest fight of all. In times like these you see how strong and supportive the cricket family is. Social media has been flooded with messages of support and sympathy for Taylor at such a life changing moment, to which I can only add my own. Tonight Two Short Legs raises a glass to one excellent short leg.

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