'I'll take the Gower comparisons, but I would rather set my own records'

Young player of the year James Taylor calls to mind another Leicestershire batsman who once won the award, writes Mark Pennell
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The Independent Online

Some three decades ago a cricketing star was announced to the world when the sages of the Cricket Writers' Club named a blonde, mop-topped Leicestershire batsman as their young cricketer of the year. The year was 1978 and a rookie left-hander named David Gower had captured the imagination of the nation's press-box luminaries to win their landslide vote for the best under-23 cricketer in the land.

Click here or click the image to see our guide to County Kings: The season's top performers

Gower, then only 21, had just traded the wing-collared shirt of his King's School Canterbury uniform for a green county cap emblazoned with Leicestershire's red fox when he won the first major award of an ultimately illustrious career.

Inevitably, the Cricket Writers' top young cricketer for 2009, Leicestershire's 19-year-old James Taylor, will attract comparisons to the enigmatic Gower. Like Gower, Taylor plays his well-honed strokes at the aptly named Grace Road. Yet characteristically, the pair are worlds apart. While Gower won infamy and fortune for champagne moments, airy leg-side flicks and buzzing tour colleagues in a bi-plane, so Taylor has already won the respect of seasoned colleagues simply for his dedication.

"Of course I'll take the comparisons with Gower," he says. "That's hugely flattering, and I'd love to emulate what he's achieved in the game, but I'd prefer to set my own records.

"I just love batting, scoring runs for the team and trying to win matches for Leicestershire. It's nice to win these awards, but I'm not getting ahead of myself. I just try and get on with the job in hand and look forward to my next game."

Though Taylor's fledgling first-class career amounts to only 21 appearances the diminutive right-hander has already attracted column inches and headlines aplenty since becoming the youngest Leicestershire player to reach 1,000 runs in a season, score a first-class double hundred and post a one-day century.

"There's no way I could have imagined my first season would go this well. It started nicely by winning the Wisden Schoolboy Cricketer award and finished with the Cricket Writers' Club best young cricketer; I couldn't have dreamed that one up."

The son of a former National Hunt jockey turned race starter, Steve Taylor, James hails from Melton Mowbray – a town famed more for producing pork pies than athletes – yet in his maiden season for the county first string he has cantered to 1,148 runs from 13 championship starts at a tidy average of almost 71.75.

In July, his unbeaten 207 against Surrey at The Oval made him the first Leicestershire teenager to ever score a championship double hundred.

"I worked really hard with our coach Tim Boon throughout last winter, and at the start of the season, which stood me in good stead. I took my chance against Middlesex at Southgate with my first hundred and a couple of weeks later I scored my first one-day century against Worcestershire.

"The most satisfying innings of the season was that one at Southgate. I wasn't meant to play in that game but we suffered an injury, then someone else fell ill on the morning of the match, so I got my chance.

"I was pleased with my hundred, not because it was my first, but because we were batting to try and save the game and I had to bat through all day. I did that, which was really rewarding.

"Other than that, I felt at my most fluent during the double hundred at The Oval. They had a strong attack out but I felt really solid at the crease all through my innings. I was chuffed."�

An England Under-19 regular with 30 caps to his name Taylor has, according to his county chairman David Smith, the right character to progress to the highest level.

"I realised we had something special on our hands down at Essex when James batted against Danish Kaneria on a Chelmsford wicket that was turning a bit,"� said Smith.

"James would never have faced an international leg-spinner of that calibre in helpful conditions before, yet he very quickly worked out a game plan, kept it simple and scored an unbeaten 112 followed by 62 in the second innings. It was a marvellous display from a young man.

"He has scored hundreds since he was 11, that's always the sign of a batsman who has the capability to move up through the levels. He's a well-balanced lad and you won't meet a player with a better work ethic. We're delighted he has won such a high-profile award."

County kings: Season's top performers

*First division

Batting: Marcus Trescothick (Somerset). Hit 1,817 runs in 16 matches, with a highest score of 146 and a season batting average of 75.70.

Bowling: Charl Willoughby (Somerset). Took 54 wickets in 16 matches, averaging 30.03.

Wicketkeeping: Phil Mustard (Durham). Made 62 dismissals in 16 matches (caught 61, stumped 1).

*Second division

Batting: Martin van Jaarsveld (Kent). Hit 1,475 runs in 15 matches with a highest score of 182, creating a season average of 70.23.

Bowling: Danish Kaneria (Essex). Took 75 wickets in 11 matches, averaging 23.69 for the season.

Wicketkeeping: James Foster (Essex). Made 61 dismissals in 15 matches (caught 57, stumped 4).

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