Back in April, the silence surrounding James Taylor was deafening. It appeared certain that he had no part to play for England this summer – and perhaps ever again – when the selectors decided that he was not among their 30 best players.
But by today, Taylor was virtually placed on Ashes stand-by when he was summoned from his county Nottinghamshire in the Friends Life t20 to play for Sussex in a three-day tour match against the Australians starting on Friday. He has come from nowhere man to nearly man once more within four months.
If Kevin Pietersen fails to recover from his calf strain, Taylor has every chance of playing in the third Test at Old Trafford, which begins a week today. The selectors announce their squad on Sunday.
It has taken a considerable resolve and weight of runs by Taylor to complete this turnaround. After years of promise and application, he played two Tests last summer against South Africa.
Although he seemed to acquit himself well at first, he was told after the defeat at Lord’s that he had to work on technical deficiencies. There were also persistent rumours that Pietersen, with whom he shared a stand of 147 at Headingley, was not exactly enamoured of his style.
Pietersen would not be alone. On Test Match Special the other day, the former England opener, Geoff Boycott, opined that Taylor was too small for an international batsman. At a little over 5ft 4in, Taylor is half an inch shorter than Sachin Tendulkar and a little under three inches shorter than Don Bradman, who made that extra length count by averaging 99.94 in Tests.
When Taylor was omitted from the season’s performance squad of 30 players, from which the selectors expect to pick their international teams, it was generally presumed that they had taken a view. But the Nottinghamshire batsman has done all he can by scoring 855 first-class runs at 57.00 including two hundreds, one a double century, and two scores in the nineties.
The temporary loan to Sussex demonstrates that England still hold sway. Taylor will miss two Twenty20 matches in the North Group, of which his county are top.
But as Andy Flower, England’s coach, said of Taylor’s appearance at Hove: “This will provide James with a valuable opportunity to play in a longer format of the game while we consider our options ahead of the third Investec Ashes Test next week.”
England remain hopeful that Pietersen will be at Old Trafford but their optimism about his fitness has been misplaced before. He has had a quiet time in the Ashes so far with Ian Bell scoring the bulk of the runs and Joe Root making the most spectacular contribution.
Doubtless, Pietersen will want to make his mark on the series before it is done. His only hundred in a home Ashes rubber is still his coruscating 158 at The Oval eight years ago.
Others apart from Taylor whom the selectors will be considering include Ravi Bopara, who has been injured with a side strain; Nick Compton, who has only opened in Tests; and Gary Ballance, a Yorkshireman who has made big middle-order runs and is known to have impressed the selectors.
If Australia are looking to change their side after their 347-run defeat at Lord’s which puts them 2-0 down in the series – and they hardly have an option – then the disgraced batsman, David Warner seems a certainty. He made 193 yesterday for Australia A against South Africa A in Pretoria and could be making his way back soon to the squad from which he was briefly suspended after hitting Root in the face in a Birmingham bar.
For the match against Sussex, the tourists are resting six of the team which lost the second Test, forcing them to pick outside the designated squad. It is further evidence of their state of turmoil.
Padding up: Contenders for the third test should KP not make it
First-class matches in 2013 11
Not out 2
Highest score 204*
100s: 2 50s: 4
First-class matches in 2013 6
Not out 0
Highest score 145
100s: 1 50s: 1
First-class matches in 2013 10
Not out 0
Highest score 141
100s: 3 50s: 5
First-class matches in 2013 7
Not out 1
Highest score 166
100s: 2 50s: 3