“I said to Flower, for what was the second time, that I didn’t think James Taylor should be playing for England. That he was the wrong choice. I have nothing against James but at 5ft 6in he’s one of the shortest men currently playing county cricket. His dad was a jockey and James is built for the same gig. We were facing the fiercest bowling attack in world cricket; I didn’t think he was up to it.”
When Kevin Pietersen wrote those words in his recently published autobiography about Taylor’s last Test against South Africa two years ago, he reinforced the notion that the Nottinghamshire batsman had been promoted above his station. Indeed, in the past two years Taylor himself must have wondered whether he was destined to be a footnote in English cricket – a two Test afterthought following a series best remembered for text messages, recriminations and resignations.
When he made his Test debut against South Africa at Headingley in August 2012, England were unbeaten in a home series in four years. By the time summer had turned to autumn, that run was well and truly over and the seeds for future unrest had been emphatically sown.
Pietersen’s text exchange with the South African players overshadowed his dismissive claims about Taylor, but while Pietersen was subsequently “reintegrated” into the England dressing room, Taylor, despite averaging 73 and 88 in domestic one-day cricket for the past two seasons, was effectively frozen out. He has played just once for his country since, scoring 25 as England won an end-of-season one-day international against Ireland in Dublin in September last year.
Whether Pietersen’s claim that he had no right to play Test cricket was a factor in England’s apparent reluctance to pick him is anyone’s guess, but now he has been handed a second chance with his inclusion in the one-day squad that travels to Sri Lanka and the World Cup early next year. And Taylor is understandably keen to make up for lost time.
“My previous track record for getting selected in the past couple of years hasn’t been great,” he says. “Obviously, I’m delighted, not only to have got the runs behind me so the selectors couldn’t not pick me but to finally get picked and represent England again.”
Taylor’s inclusion follows two years of heavy runscoring in all forms of cricket for Nottinghamshire.
“To go on a tour is also a big thing. That was always my aim to get on an England tour, which I’ve never done before. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t been really frustrated, not just this year but also in the past few years.
“I’ve really used that as motivation to prove people wrong. The selectors told me to just keep scoring runs and said I would always be there or thereabouts. I’ve scored runs in all three formats, in big games during pressure situations. I’ve shown people all around the country that I can do it no matter what situation I’m faced with.”
At a time when England’s one-day team looks desperately short of both urgency and inspiration, Taylor’s scurrying between the wickets, coupled with an ability to clear the ropes that belies his small frame, has the potential to reinvigorate a side that goes to the World Cup more in hope than expectation.
“I think I have quite a bit to offer the England team when it comes to adapting to a given situation and knowing how to play that situation,” he says. “I’ve been in the gym quite a bit and in the last couple of years I’ve done more [strengthening work] than I’ve ever done in the past. I’m in quite good nick at the moment and I’m definitely hitting the ball harder than I’ve ever done before. For a little guy I would like to think I’ve always hit it pretty hard but I’m now consistently hitting it further and harder.”
That might come as a surprise to Pietersen, who, ironically, played one of his most devastating innings for England while the debutant Taylor was at the crease with him at Leeds two years ago.
The pair put on 147, of which Taylor’s share was 34. With Pietersen at his bullying best – in a batting sense, of course – Taylor could only watch as the former England man smashed South Africa’s pace attack to all corners.
Taylor, though, argues that his own contribution showed he was capable of mixing it at the top level. “The biggest positive for me was that it was against the best bowling attack in the world and I felt really comfortable,” he says, disagreeing with Pietersen’s assessment. “I’m sure that brief little taster will do me good this winter.”
Pietersen may have made up his mind on Taylor – but the man he dismissed as a jockey is out to prove that his own race still has some way to run.Reuse content