The Cricketer
James Coyne James Coyne

TAYLOR COMES BACK INTO ENGLAND FOLD

"I’m most comfortable out in the middle – batting, wicketkeeping and being around the girls"

Sarah Taylor has put herself forward to play a part in England’s tilt at the Women’s World Cup, although her comeback with be dealt with sensitively by the team management.

Taylor, 28, took a prolonged break from cricket in May last year, to try to address her problems with anxiety attacks. She has not played for England since the 2016 World Twenty20, and has made just one competitive appearance for Sussex women this season.

However, such is her talismanic ability, both in front of and behind the stumps, that she has been included in England’s squad of 15 for their home World Cup, which gets underway on June 24 with a sold-out match against India at Derby. A healthy and fully-fit Taylor could have the potential to light up the World Cup. England have not won a major ICC tournament since 2009, when Taylor was part of side that won both the World Cup in Australia and World T20 in Australia.

Head coach Mark Robinson says the team management will continue to monitor her progress through England’s practice games in the lead up to the tournament. The World Cup tournament rules permit squad changes for any reason up to June 17; thereafter a switch can only be made on medical grounds, and subject to ICC clearance.

“We’ve had just over a year to work with Sarah,” Robinson told The Cricketer. “What we won’t take for granted is her mental well-being – and that’s the same for everyone in the squad. If you’re in a good place mentally, you’re generally in a good place to do your job.

“For Sarah, the biggest challenge was, could she physically get to the UAE for our training camp? Could she get on the aeroplane? It’s social anxiety that she suffers from, so would she be able to cope with all the busyness of the airport? She did it, better than we expected, which is great. Then the question was: can she cope with the climate in the UAE? It got up to 41°C out there. Next: will she be able to play any of the games out there? The first game was a bit bumpy, but the second was a bit better, and the third was easier still. It’s been good to see.

“Because of the fixture list, there haven't really been any other games for Sarah to play in. But there are four [unofficial] warm-up games we can use before the tournament really kicks in, and after those we’ll know a bit more about where Sarah is.”

 

The ECB have recorded an interview with Taylor in which she addresses some of the issues she has had to deal with, and how she has gone about her comeback. In the video, she says: “I’m not the finished article. The social anxiety is still going on, day to day. New places are still a struggle for me. But where I’m most comfortable is out in the middle, batting, wicketkeeping and being around the girls.

“I’ve made great strides to be in the position where I am. And I’m proud I’ve even put myself forward. I’m ready to face the World Cup and the scrutiny that sport brings.”

Taylor has been undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy, and has worked closely with ECB staff at Loughborough on her “graduated comeback”. She had her central contract renewed in December.

England have played no official series since the tour of Sri Lanka late last year. They will play unofficial warm-up games against Sussex Under-17, West Indies, India and an inter-squad match, before official warm-up fixtures against Sri Lanka on June 19 and New Zealand on June 21, both in Derbyshire.

The team have performed well since the last World T20, winning 12 out of 15 one-day and T20 matches (at home to Pakistan, then away in West Indies and Sri Lanka). While the bowling attack has plenty of experience, the same cannot be said for the batting – however exciting and dynamic its potential – with Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway both missing from England’s last ICC tournament, and Taylor’s availability unclear until now.

Amy Jones, who has been the first-choice wicketkeeper over the last year, has been left out. But England do have back-up options if Taylor does become unavailable for whatever reason: Tammy Beaumont kept wicket against Sri Lanka, while her opening partner Lauren Winfield can also do the job. All have been working on their keeping with Michael Bates, who wowed county audiences with his ability behind the stumps in his time at Hampshire.

Robinson added: “Amy Jones is desperately unlucky to miss out. She’s a fine batter in her own right and has kept beautifully at times. But we have looked at our options during the year, in case Sarah either suffers an injury or is out for another reason.”

England captain Heather Knight, speaking before the squad was named at the launch of NatWest’s Cricket has no Boundaries campaign, told The Cricketer: “Cricket’s never going to be the issue for Sarah. It’s a pleasure to watch her come back and bat again. She’s been back training with the group to a certain extent since January, so she’s been back around the squad for a while. She’s still the world-class player she was.

“She did brilliantly in the UAE – a lot more than what was expected. At the moment it’s one stage at a time. Hopefully Sarah’s in a good place and she gets back to where she needs to be and we can have her in our team.”

England have a further injury headache surrounding the fitness of Knight, who captains the side, bats in the middle order and is an option with the ball. But a small stress fracture in a metatarsal was discovered in her foot while out in the UAE, and she faces a race to be fit for the opening games of the World Cup. Anya Shrubsole will lead the team in the event of Knight’s absence.

Heather Knight was speaking at the launch of NatWest’s ‘Cricket has no Boundaries’ campaign, which celebrates the sport’s inclusivity. NatWest is the new principal partner of England cricket, having supported the game since 1981. Find out more at natwest.com/cricket #NoBoundaries