Cricket

Sarah Taylor retires: A lightning-quick wicket-keeper and crafty batter who put down anxiety to become cricketing giant

  • Snehal Pradhan
  • September 28th, 2019
  • 11:06:15 IST

Sarah Taylor’s retirement is a reminder of how much we take for granted. Over the last decade, there have been occasions when she has taken a break from professional cricket or skipped tours to manage her struggles with anxiety, but even as all those came, we presumed they would go. And they did. Taylor’s most recent return was spectacularly successful; having been away from cricket for most of 2016, she helped England to a stunning World Cup victory in 2017.

So when Taylor was recused from the T20I leg of the women’s Ashes, I for one thought it was temporary again. After all, she was playing cricket in the Women’s Cricket Super League as recently as last month. If that wasn’t significant enough, she had two half-centuries in her last four innings. Things were on the mend, it seemed. Taking time off was just a part of her reality now. And so was coming back.

Sarah Taylor was known for her quick hands behind the stumps and finishes her career with 227 dismissals from 219 international innings. @ICC

Sarah Taylor was known for her quick hands behind the stumps and finishes her career with 227 dismissals from 219 international innings. @ICC

Friday’s (27 September) announcement changed that. Taylor will leave international cricket having ticked every cricketing box there is to tick: ODI World Cup winner twice over (2009 and 2017), T20 World Cup winner (2009), triple Ashes winner, four time ICC Cricketer of the Year. She’s done it all, at just the age of 30. And yet there is sadness, purely selfish sadness, at what yet could have been.

Taylor has all the milestones. She finishes as England’s second highest run-scorer, with over 200 caps across three formats. Her cumulative 6,533 runs are filled with trademark shots like the chip over mid-wicket, the inside-out shot over the off-side, and the reverse sweep from outside off stump. While batting, she is all fast hands and sure eyes, but nimble feet were never far behind. Combined, she looked her best when advancing down the track and creating angles that should not be physically possible.

But her copious skills with the bat will forever be overshadowed by her genius with the gloves, attested to by 227 dismissals from 219 international innings. 104 of those were stumpings. That’s roughly one stumping every two matches. For perspective, that’s a better rate than MS Dhoni, who has 195 stumpings from 608 international innings, roughly a stumping every three matches. Taylor took complete advantage of the opportunities to stand up to the stumps that women’s cricket offers, doubling the threat of her team’s medium pace bowlers.

Batsmen knew when they saw her half-crouched, that they couldn’t afford a mistake. They saw those shin pads inside her trousers instead of wicket-keeping pads (something so many ‘keepers have copied since) and moved an inch or so deeper in their crease, which improved lengths for her bowlers. And those bowlers, they could feel the odd ball coming out wrong and still not worry when they saw those hands flowing down the leg-side, turning wides into wickets.

Some of Taylor’s work has achieved viral internet immortality, but there is so much more that flies under the radar. In the same game as that stunning, anticipatory catch of Jodie Fields, where she plucked a reverse sweep from where third slip might have been, is a stumping of Jess Cameron. Go watch it, and appreciate how hard it is. Cameron is barely out of her crease, and the ball has landed just in front of Taylor. Still, she manages to grab it in one hand and whip off the bails before Cameron’s bat returns to safety. And while much was made of her foray into men’s cricket, becoming the first woman to play in A Grade club cricket in Australia in 2015, she made a more significant yet less celebrated impact in Adelaide that year. In the final of the Women’s National Cricket League, Taylor scored a hundred for South Australia, helping them defeat New South Wales and end the latter’s 10-year winning streak.

To think she achieved all this while also managing her anxiety, something she has been living with for much of her recent professional life, is staggering. Just four months after that WNCL century, Taylor endured a rotten WT20 2016 in India, forcing her to step away from the game. Most other professionals might be able to deal with such struggles privately. But rather than take that route, Taylor went public, amplifying the discourse around mental health in women’s cricket, something that will forever be a part of her legacy.

Taylor’s successful comeback from that break — scoring 396 runs in the 2017 World Cup, averaging 49.5, with scores of 54 and 45 in the semi and final — should also be credited to time and space afforded to her by the England management, and the environment created by coach Mark Robinson. His recent ouster from the England setup is certain to be a factor in Taylor’s decision.

In a recent interview with The Cricket Monthly, Taylor admitted she struggled to handle being on top, knowing that the only way from there was down. Her fans will look at that statement and hope against hope for it’s reverse. Taylor may still continue to play domestic cricket, and for now we can only hope we witness more of her genius there.

Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer, and now a commentator and journalist. She hosts ‘Cricket With Snehal’ on YouTube, and tweets @SnehalPradhan.

Updated Date: September 28, 2019 11:06:15 IST

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