The sky may have fallen in at the World Cup but England Women’s ray of sunshine is back and ready to burn brightly in this summer’s Ashes. Sarah Taylor tells Ed Kemp about expectation, nerves, flattery and feeling old at 24…
Cricket’s weird. One minute you can be a world-beater, about to blaze an historic trail in the name of half of humankind. Three knocks later people are asking what all the fuss is about. England Women’s wicketkeeper-batsman has often been touted as the most naturally gifted player the women’s game has ever known. But in January, on the eve of the World Cup in India, the hype was cranked up a few notches when Sarah Taylor happened to mention in a newspaper interview that she’d discussed with Sussex the possibility of playing for their men’s Second XI. Taylor was suddenly in the eye of a frenzied media storm, leading to speculation that she could become the first woman to play in men’s first-class cricket.
Off England went, to defend the World Cup title, with the buzz over these new revelations still raging. With Taylor now the wide-eyed face of progress in women’s cricket – even women’s sport – the focus on her performances would be stronger than ever. Taylor – a friendly, funny, generally laid back 24-year-old – was news, and she would be news
whether she liked it or not. So what happened next?
On the biggest stage, the game’s most exciting talent made three ducks in a row and England lost the world title to Australia. Was it, as some suggested, a bottle job? Did the pressure get too much? Or was it just a coincidental blip?
Three innings, after all, is a small sample from an already long career. And it was only three. With England still holding a chance of qualification for the final in India Taylor walked out to bat against New Zealand and hit 88 from 79 balls to help her team to victory. She had her luck this time – only a drop at deep mid wicket stopped her notching a fourth successive blob – but though other results conspired to keep England from the final, it was a welcome score for their No.3. Form, it turned out, was temporary. Who’d have thought it.
So how do you explain the run of blongers? And where do you go from there? On the eve of a new Ashes battle and with a golden chance to gain ground back on Australia’s rising Southern Stars, Taylor is still smiling – and hoping, this time, to thrive on the hype. But the shock of what happened at the World Cup will not be forgotten.
Let’s talk about the World Cup. How do you look back on what happened there?
Well, I was obviously disappointed. I mean, three ducks in a row! Unbelievable… It was just one of those things – I didn’t do anything differently in the fourth game but somehow managed to get dropped on nought, and then I was off and going. So it was just one of those things where I knew that I had to ride it, and I came out at the end quite happy. Of course I was bitterly disappointed because in a World Cup you’ve got to contribute, and although I contributed with the gloves, I didn’t with the bat. And it’s tough when a top-order batter isn’t firing. Everyone else has got to pick up the pieces, there’s more pressure. But I learnt from it.
What did you learn?
I took it in the sense that ‘these things happen’. I’ve had a long and successful career so far, and you are going to have those blips, and that was one of those. There was nothing I could do about it at the time – I wasn’t doing anything differently, and I’m still not doing anything differently now than I was then, it’s just one of those things in a career that happens – you move on from it, and it’s often better to think that way rather than, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ and then you over-think things and you try to change something that doesn’t need changing. It was one of those. At the time, once I got the second duck I was then searching for runs in the third one, and that’s not how it should be. Charlotte [Edwards] came up to me and said, ‘Look, mate, just keep going’ because it is one of those things that just happens.
Did the hype around the men’s cricket story affect you?
I’m going to say no, I didn’t really think about it while I was out there. I’d like to say it didn’t. But I don’t know, if I’d walked away having just been mediocre then I could say I don’t think it did, but I got three ducks! And I’m still saying I don’t think it did! I wasn’t thinking about it while I was out there at all so I’d like to say no, and just say it was one of those things that happens in a career.
And how did you cope at the time?
I was actually okay. The girls were really good to me – we had a laugh, and I’d rather people are like that than tip-toe around me and the girls were brilliant in that respect, they just laughed about it, because I was laughing about it. I got an lbw against West Indies, which I can look at it and think, ‘Ooh, was that out?’ and then you think there’s no point in thinking about it, and the second one… I don’t know, any other day I probably would have creamed it through the covers but I didn’t, I nicked off against Australia. And then the third one we were trying to get runs in so many overs and I just searched for a ball I shouldn’t have. They just happen, and then you get to the fourth one and you think, ‘Right, just bat. I need a bit of luck here… a bit of luck’s going to come my way…’ and then you get dropped on nought and then you go on and score runs. I’ve been around long enough to know that stuff like this happens.
How had you dealt with the pressure in that tournament?
I remember exactly what I did, I remember exactly what I was thinking. I tried different techniques of trying to relax myself before I went out to bat – because I get quite nervous. I’ll be honest with you, I actually did a crossword. It just made me more relaxed – when we played a warm-up game I was really relaxed and I just jokingly did a puzzler before I batted and it calmed me down. So then I tried it, and once I’d got three ducks I thought, ‘Well I’m not doing this again’. So I scrapped that. Now I just sit there tapping away, just crying inside…
Have you always got nervous?
It was easier when I was younger! It’s not like I’m really old now, but it was a lot easier when I was 17, 18. You’re really naïve, and you’re nervous, but you’re nervously excited, whereas now I’m just nervous. I’m happy to be there, but I’m just nervous! But I love it, and I suppose if I wasn’t nervous then I’d be worried. I love the responsibility of batting No.3 and my expectations of myself are quite high, so that’s probably what’s changed. I understand that I’m a senior player now and I think that’s possibly why I get more nervous. I could probably get away with a lot more a few years ago – even about a year ago. It was bizarre looking around the changing room in the Pakistan series [earlier this summer, when some senior players were out injured]. It was a massive change of squad with some new players and I just sat there and I was like, ‘I feel really old!’ But the people who are coming in are 20, 21, 22. They’re only two years younger than me and they still make me feel quite old; I feel quite boring! I think I’ve hit ‘boring’, now. It’s ridiculous…
But you haven’t changed what’s made you successful so far…
I don’t think there’s too much to do technically; I’m still flamingo-ing over extra cover and stuff like that, still playing my game: see ball, hit ball sort of game. It’s more the scenario work, the mental side of things that’s got to keep ticking along – especially now I’m a veteran…
Good to hear. Never stop flamingo-ing over extra cover – AOC has always said that… So tell us how the Sussex twos story came about in the first place…
I was doing an interview for the Guardian – I’d signed a contract to play with Walmley men and I was talking about how much I love playing men’s cricket. I said that Mark Lane [then England Women coach] had been asked by the Sussex twos coach Carl Hopkinson if he knew any keepers – because they had a shortage early on, and Laney had suggested me. That was literally the conversation. It was a case of, ‘If we really need you, you’re an option’. It was nice just to be asked, but that was pretty much it! As far as some people are concerned though I’m now playing international men’s cricket!
Were you surprised by how big the story got?
It was a massive surprise. I remember just scrolling through channels on TV and it being on The Wright Stuff on Channel 5! It was flattering, a lot of what people were saying, but it was one of those things that – like I do with everything – I had to just sort of laugh off. I’m not searching for it. I’m quite happy playing men’s club cricket at Walmley as and when I can. But if the opportunity ever arose then I think I’d be stupid to turn it down.
In the end you did a good job of drawing attention to the women’s game just before the World Cup!
It was good publicity – if I’d have had a better tournament, that would have been nice – and shown a few people why! But essentially a lot of what I want to do is promote women’s cricket as much as possible. I played a charity game recently, and you do get some men that don’t rate women’s cricket as highly as I think they should. I batted with a guy like that – I ran him out actually, which was good, I felt pretty good about it, I thought that’d teach him to mess with me – and he turned round to his friend at the end of the day and said, ‘I didn’t realise they played proper cricket shots’. For me that’s what it’s about – proving to people how good it is and trying to get it on the map. So although it was a little bit of a bizarre situation, the fact that it homed in on women’s cricket just before a massive World Cup tournament, I think that was brilliant.
You often hear yourself described as “the most talented player in the world’ or the “the best female player ever”. How do you deal with that?
To be honest, I ignore most of it, because sometimes it’s people just flattering for the sake of flattering – and it is all men, actually! It’s quite nice to hear, don’t get me wrong – I think anyone would be silly to say they don’t like hearing it. I’m happy to hear it, but it’s like any compliment, you just say thank you, smile and get on with things.
Smile and get on with things – seems like a decent rule for us all. After a spell of reflection then preparation between the World Cup and the Ashes, a few months that “felt like about eight years”, she’s nearly there. And Sarah Taylor is happiest when the waiting is over, the puzzles have been put away and she can focus those eyes on the ball coming towards her. By the time the summer’s out, no one who’s been watching should be in any doubt what all the fuss was about.