If anybody in the England squad was going to be denied a maiden ODI century by a pathetic and farcical sequence of errors from people who should have known better, it was James Taylor. It feels like he’s been battling for a fair deal his entire career from pundits, fellow players, and selectors. Kumar Dharmasena is just another name on the long list of people who have messed James Taylor around. He probably won’t be the last, either.
One of the big controversies surrounding Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography centred on comments Pietersen allegedly made about Taylor privately to then-England coach Andy Flower. Pietersen was furious that his friend Eoin Morgan (whose technique simply wasn’t, and isn’t, up to Test standard) had been overlooked for the Headingley Test against South Africa. Pietersen insinuates that his private remarks were leaked. So, fair enough.
However, he goes on to make some public comments of his own. He writes: “I have nothing against James, but the fact is, at five foot six he’s one of the shortest men currently playing county cricket. His dad was a jockey and James is built for the same gig.” The jibe would barely raise a titter in the most childish of playgrounds, but KP put it straight in the book.
The fact is, at five foot six he’s taller than Sachin Tendulkar. The fact is, that of all the cricketers to have played List A cricket, only Michael Bevan and Cheteshwar Pujara have a higher batting average. The fact is, that Taylor has 12 List A centuries from 107 innings, while Pietersen has 15 from 233. Barring serious injuries, Taylor is going to eclipse KP’s record as a one-day cricketer at domestic level. He has only just turned 25.
Pietersen has come in for a lot of criticism for his views on Taylor. And he is demonstrably wrong. While the rest of England’s batsmen looked out of their depth against Australia’s world-class attack, Taylor was assured, confident and positive. The man KP had down as the superior batsman recorded his third duck in as many innings, and his fourth in five.
KP isn’t a selector, though. The selectors’ misjudgement of Taylor’s ability is a far greater misdemeanour. How can they justify having left him out for so long?
The obvious response is that Taylor has not yet proven that he is good enough for international cricket. Perhaps not, but the extent of his dominance at county level shows that he is far too good to be kept on the county circuit. In 2009, he averaged 46.33 in domestic List A matches. He was 19. At 20, he averaged 54.87. Then 63.5. Then 70.2. Then 77.5.
2014 was a comparatively lean season for the young batsman, admittedly. He only averaged 73.25. These are not the numbers of a good county player; they are the numbers of a batsman in a class apart from his peers.
During this time, England’s ODI side slipped from first place in the rankings to sixth. As a group, England’s batsmen failed to compete. James Taylor’s form would have been difficult to ignore even if the international team had been winning. In a losing team, his continued omission was inexcusable.
Admittedly, the media don’t help either. James Taylor has been described as “tiny” (or “diminutive”, by the journalists with a thesaurus) more times than he’s been described as talented. Many cricket pundits (with some exceptions, of course) prefer the cheap and easy joke over substantive opinion. It is a perennial problem for a lot of cricketers: on the other end of the scale, see Mohammad Irfan. However many wickets he takes, he’ll only ever be remembered as the really tall one.
Even in 2014, he only got a chance in the ODI side when Alastair Cook was suspended for slow over-rates. The day before the game, Taylor batted after Ian Bell in the nets, leading journalists to believe that Bell would be recalled to the team instead. It would have been a typical move. Even though Taylor did get the nod, it looked very much like he was only a temporary stop-gap. By batting him last in the nets, England didn’t give him the best chance to succeed.
One chance was all he needed, though. He made the highest ODI score by an England number three since Jonathan Trott, and has clung on to his place tenaciously since then. He has five fifties in ten innings since that day. In every press conference before his selection, he modestly replied that he could only score as many runs as possible and see what happened. He had been banging on the metaphorical door so long that his metaphorical knuckles must have been bleeding. He had worked so hard to get that one chance at the top level, and he wasn’t going to let it go.
Once again, though, England couldn’t resist tinkering with their order. When Bopara was (rightly) dropped, Gary Ballance came in and was moved up to three. Taylor went to six. You’d imagine a batsman who hadn’t played a List A match since September might have an easier job at six than at three, but clearly the England selectors knew better. No, I couldn’t write that with a straight face.
Wherever Taylor is in the order, though, he will do his job. Whatever people are saying about him, however he’s messed about by the coaches or selectors, his focus is on scoring runs. Just like he has always done in county cricket, just like we’ve always told you he could do on the world stage.
Taylor bats like a man fighting for his place. Quite possibly because he is, most of the time. So when he was given out lbw, only to be reprieved by DRS, only to be told that his partner had been run out, only to find out that the umpires had got it wrong, he assumed the same wry smile that he made every time he wasn’t selected for England, and every time someone said he was too short to play international cricket.