Taylor takes pleasure in double delivery

Andrew Baker speaks to a woman who plays for England at cricket and football

IMAGINE a present-day English sportsman turning in star performances for his country at both football and cricket. Imagine Alan Shearer was a wicket- taking fast bowler, say, or Dominic Cork a resourceful midfielder. How high a profile would such a star have? Astronomical. But when Clare Taylor, England strike bowler and England sweeper, flew into Heathrow last week with the rest of the England cricket team, the paparazzi were elsewhere.

Such double eminence is not unprecedented, but since the Compton brothers no one has combined the two sports at the highest level in such an impressive manner as Taylor: Ian Botham's efforts at Scunthorpe and Gary Lineker's skills on the charity cricket circuit are as close as you get.

Taylor's efforts are more substantial. England went into the final Test against India a fortnight ago needing a draw to win the series. Taylor took five wickets, but more importantly, batting at No 11, she lasted two hours at the crease to secure the vital draw. "That was a miracle," she recalled last week, back home in Huddersfield. "I got the Man of the Match award jointly with Debbie Stock, who stayed with me for the final wicket."

It was a typically gritty performance. Motivation, of herself and her team-mates, is one of Taylor's most valuable abilities. "She has a competitive spirit, to say the least," the England opener Jan Brittin said. "She's forever clapping her hands and encouraging people, making positive noises. I think she gets the attitude from playing football, where there is never a dull moment."

Brittin has also been on the receiving end of Taylor's bowling in regional games. "As a bowler Clare is tremendously accurate, which is very useful especially in one-day matches," Brittin reckons. "Batting against her you are always wondering where the next runs are coming from. And if you do manage to snick one for four you can be sure she won't be happy about it."

The football writer Alyson Rudd has watched many of Taylor's inspirational performances in England's midfield. "She is an absolutely solid central defender," Rudd reports. "She is confident, and her head never drops. Tony Adams is her closest counterpart in the male game." But she is not just a blocker: "She's an intelligent player and she distributes the ball well from defence."

When not turning out for England or Liverpool Ladies, Taylor, who is 30, drives a van for the Royal Mail in Bradford. "They're very supportive," she says, "even though the amount of time I spend away on unpaid leave has got beyond a joke."

Taylor will be back behind the wheel this week with memories of the tour of India to take her mind off the job. "It was brilliant over there, first class," she recalls. "We were looked after wonderfully well, and we got so much attention that it was strange coming in to land at Heathrow and not seeing a welcoming committee and a posse of waiting press men. We had armed guards who followed us everywhere. After seven weeks you start to think: `Oh my, another official function', but everyone was so welcoming that you soon get over it."

There will be no such adulation for Taylor this week: a shame for a star deserving of greater public acclaim. But a relief to the district postmaster.

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