Some things are so much more important than cricket. Family, friends and, of course, health. The news that James Taylor has been forced to retire from cricket because of a serious heart condition needs to viewed through that prism.
Taylor being diagnosed with this defect and getting the treatment needed to rectify it is so much more important than him being able to continue hitting a leather ball with a wooden stick.
That said, it is just so sad that a young man who was making his way at the highest level has to walk away from the sport that he loved. Taylor is just 26-years-old. By all rights, he should have had anywhere between 10 and 15 years left batting for England, Nottinghamshire and other teams around the world that would pay him to do something he is very, very good at.
Taylor had finally found his way into the England team as a regular in two out of the three formats, having battled so hard to get there. He made his Test debut in 2012 at Headingley against South Africa. A score of 34 in his first knock was a great effort against a brilliant attack, but it was an innings that was completely overshadowed by Kevin Pietersen — firstly by a masterclass with the bat and then a press conference that will also never be forgotten.
He replaced Pietersen in the next Test, but had to then wait more than three years to get back in the side. When he did get a go at Test cricket again, he made an excellent 76 in November 2015, when he was superb against Pakistan’s spin bowlers on a Sharjah pitch that took turn.
He deserved his chance back in the side and he took it. He did enough to play all four Tests in South Africa, making another half-century in the Boxing Day Test at Durban.
Taylor had not completely cracked Test cricket, but he showed enough technique and talent to make you think it would not be long before he really thrived. While he had never rediscovered his amazing red ball form from his time at Leicestershire since his move to Nottinghamshire in late 2011, his returns were enough to prove he could play the long form of the game.
That said, it was in limited-overs cricket where Taylor was at his absolute best. Of those who have played 50 or more innings in List A cricket, James Taylor has the fourth highest average. His 53.11 is only bettered by Michael Bevan, Cheteshwar Pujara and AB de Villiers. In county cricket, he was immense in the white ball formats. In the summer of 2015, he scored 657 runs at an average of 58 in List A cricket.
During England’s terrible white ball winter of 2014/15, that included the embarrassment that was the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Taylor was one of the very few moments of brightness. His 98 not out against Australia in the opening match of the World Cup was England’s best knock in that awful campaign — by a distance. It would have been a hundred but for the umpires making an absolute mess of DRS protocols.
What was (or should it still be is) so impressive about Taylor’s batting in 50-over cricket was his innate ability to judge a pitch and conditions so quickly and turn that into a match-winning performance. He could get himself in and accelerate as the innings went on.
The best example of this was his 146 not out against Derbyshire in the quarter-final of the Royal London One Day Cup in 2014. His team lost two wickets in the fourth over to leave them 31-2. He patiently went about building an innings that saw him bring up his hundred off 134 balls. It was then that he showed how his game wasn’t all about touch and technique. He was capable of scoring quickly with big shots as well. In the next 20 balls that he faced, he scored 46 runs, including four massive sixes that he pulled off his nose into the Trent Bridge stands.
He was finally recalled to England’s one-day squad after that innings, but many who were following his career closely were asking why didn’t it happen earlier. There are no current players in county cricket who have had a stronger case for selection denied for as long. Even after impressing in the ODI side every time he played, he was the first to be dropped. So much of Taylor’s brutally short cricket career was spent on the outside of the England squad looking in while players with less of a claim on a place were getting to play.
After fighting so hard to push for a spot in England’s Test and ODI sides, he had finally got there, and then this bombshell struck. It is just so unfair, not just because Taylor is a fine cricketer but also because he is a fine man. The injustice of it is just sickening.
Throughout this time, he was scoring prolifically in county cricket and for the England Lions; he was never bitter or angry about his non-selection. He was doing a fine job of captaining that England second team. He would always say that he just needed to keep scoring runs, to make his case so strong that it was impossible to say no to him pulling on an England shirt. That is exactly what he did.
His place in the team after the 2014/15 winter was exemplified by the fact that when England sent a second string team to play Ireland in May 2015, it was Taylor who was chosen to lead them. It made his omission from the games against New Zealand in June all the more mystifying. English cricket must be in ridiculously rude health if a player as good as Taylor could not make every team.
The respect for Taylor as a player and as a man seems universal. The outpouring of wishes on social media from current and former cricketers, both teammates and opponents, was overwhelming.
Taylor is a young man of real talent and he can’t play cricket anymore. That is such a shame for him and for cricket fans. But there is so much more to life than that. It is great news that this condition was spotted before disaster struck, and Taylor being the man that he is he will find another career that he loves and fulfils him.
We won’t get to watch him bat again, but his health is far more important and following on from that his happiness. Cricket fans around the world will be wishing him lots of the former and even more of the latter.
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