James Taylor could be the man to fill England's middle order hole

 

There is less than a week until what for many is the true start of the cricketing summer, the first Test Match of the year, and yet there is still some uncertainty about the composition of England's batting lineup.

This in truth is not a new development. Since the international retirement of Paul Collingwood, there have been many suitors vying for his spot at number six, although for the time being Joe Root – seemingly the new golden boy of English cricket – is the man in possession.

However with Kevin Pietersen set to miss at least the first course of this summer's cricketing banquet through injury, England's selectors have to once again find a man to plug the middle order.

Judging by their policy in recent years, Jonny Bairstow would appear to be in pole position. The Yorkshireman stepped in for Pietersen in March during the tour of New Zealand and after a tentative start to the domestic season he has made scores of 186 and 53 in his last two innings.

However for all Bairstow's claims, there is also a very strong case to be made for James Taylor. To start with, many feel the diminutive right-hander has been pretty harshly treated since he made his debut against South Africa last summer.

Despite making his bow on the international stage in a turbulent series overshadowed by the Pietersen furore and even though he shared a vital stand of 147 at Headingley with his text-happy teammate, Taylor was dropped after just one more game and left out of the touring parties for India and New Zealand - a move seemingly harking back to the ruthless chopping and changing policy so favoured by selectors in the 90s.

If the 23-year-old had harboured any hopes of an upturn in his fortunes at the start of this domestic season, then his omission from the ECB’s 30-man performance squad added further insult to injury.

However in spite of all this, Taylor has done the only thing he could to try and ensure the gaze of the all-seeing selectorial eye fell kindly upon him – make runs. He has two hundreds already this season – one grittily defiant, the other off just 98 balls in a limited overs game – not to mention a score of 97 and two further half centuries.

It is this early-season form that has seen him earn a call up to the England Lions side currently locking horns with New Zealand at Grace Road – an opportunity that gives him a chance to firmly show his true credentials for that much-coveted spot in England’s middle order.

Taylor has been a consistent performer in the past for the Lions, averaging an impressive 61.60, indeed it was this that catapulted him up to the heady heights of international cricket in the first place.

Faced with almost certainly the same New Zealand side that will play England at Lord’s next week, he must know that should he make a big score, he will make it hard for the selectors to overlook him – even if he is 5ft6.

Of course his Lions teammate Bairstow also has the chance to cement his place, but should he slip up then perhaps old doubts about aspects of his technique might resurface and his failure in both innings of his last international outing might begin to count against him, which would give Taylor a chance.        

Provided he can take it and re-convince the selectors of his worth with some all-important runs, then James Taylor could yet prove a handy man for England.

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