England’s selectors may as well have spent part of their time this year on the boundary shouting: “Come in, No 3, your time’s up.” Nothing has reflected their confusion more than the rate at which they have gone through the men at first drop, as if they were hiring out seaside dinghies and dragging them in with a metal hook.
James Taylor may now give them pause for thought. By accident rather than the careful design which, it must be supposed, attended the choice of his predecessors, Taylor was the ninth batsman to occupy the position in 2014. He responded with a thoroughly bracing innings of 90 in the fourth one-day international against Sri Lanka. It was not his fault that England lost by six wickets and are 3-1 down in the series.
If there is any justice – and it has not often prevailed so far in Taylor’s career – he will now be offered the chance to secure this troublesome position for the World Cup next February and beyond. Having played his first one-day international in 2011, he had played only one of the 67 before Sunday.
The selectors have seemed hesitant about him and only a superb climax to the 2014 summer when he scored three hundreds for Nottinghamshire in four innings (his other score was 62) persuaded them that he should come to Sri Lanka to compete for a World Cup place. But still he remained surplus to requirements and only the suspension of the captain, Alastair Cook, for an over rate misdemeanour, allowed his inclusion.
“It has been hugely frustrating, having scored the runs that I have in the past, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Taylor said yesterday. “But, hopefully, it is in the past and now I can look forward to a few more innings if I get the opportunity. That question is always going to be there, am I going to get another go?”
England’s difficulties with the No 3 position have not been entirely of their own making. They had to carry out urgent auditions for the role after the sudden departure from the international game of Jonathan Trott.
In the previous four years, Trott had been a bulwark of the side and of the 81 innings played at No 3 between the start of 2010 and the end of 2013, 59 were played by Trott. The remainder was shared intermittently among five others. It gave the team an air of permanence and solidity, which has been patently lacking since Trott withdrew during last year’s Ashes tour with a stress-related condition which makes any return highly improbable.
Starting with Joe Root in January, England were suddenly casting round. Ben Stokes’ 70 in Perth seemed to be the answer but a broken hand and, subsequently, a grave loss of form left the place vacant again. Gary Ballance and Ian Bell were two of the class acts tried. Nothing seemed to work but, at some point, it became the case that this was because they were not allowing any batsman sufficient time to bed in.
At the start of this tour, it seemed they had alighted on Ian Bell at three with Cook and Moeen Ali opening. This was hard cheese on Bell, who had formed a prolific, if not invariably rapid, opening partnership with Cook over the previous two years, and on Alex Hales, who had been brought in to open as the next big thing last summer but was now being overlooked.
When Bell failed in the first two matches here, England decided to give Hales the dynamic opener a chance at three, which was not exactly putting a square peg in a round hole but seemed destined to have the callers-in of dinghies queuing up. Then Cook was banned for a match, Hales was elevated to open once more and the time had come at last to give Taylor a bash. It could hardly have been a more grudging invitation.
Taylor began nervously but as soon as he bashed a ball over midwicket from outside off stump – all his own design that shot, the Taylor-made – he was off. Cramps in the left forearm debilitated him but this was an imaginative contribution of substance. Now, with Cook returning, it is probably poor Hales who will struggle to make the XI.
Part of the reluctance surrounding Taylor, ridiculously, might be because of his small stature. We are in an age of tall batsmen, yet some of the greatest craftsmen in the game’s history have been small men. The former England batsman Kevin Pietersen was one of Taylor’s chief detractors.
“It hasn’t affected me at all,” Taylor said. “If anything, it gives you added motivation to prove people wrong. Everybody has got their doubters, I have probably got more than most but it doesn’t bother me. It is just a joy to prove people wrong.
“Some of the greatest players have been small and I am definitely not the smallest guy to play cricket. As you saw a brief little stint yesterday, I can hit the ball over the ropes and if you can do that then height doesn’t matter. I like to think I can hit the ball as hard as anybody else so it doesn’t bother me, it might bother others.” Stay out there, No 3, your time’s not nearly up.Reuse content