When Claire Taylor became the first woman to be a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2009, some suggested that it was a stunt. Better that than deriding the women's game as too many otherwise rational observers are wont to do.
Taylor, who announced her retirement yesterday at the age of 35, was a formidable batsman who was as dogged as she was nerveless. Her contribution towards making women's cricket both respected and accomplished may come to be seen as immeasurable.
"It's the right time mentally and physically for me to step away from the international game," Taylor said. "Fitting in all the training amid an ever busier working life is becoming unsustainable. There just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the week. Physically I seem to need to spend more and more time in the gym recovering from injuries rather than training to get fitter. I'm getting old I guess."
Taylor played a crucial part in England becoming a dominant force in world cricket. In February 2008, she made 79 and 64 not out in a one-off Test match at Bowral – home ground of Don Bradman – to ensure that Australia were beaten.
Perhaps her finest hour came the following year in the semi-final of the World Twenty20 at The Oval. England, favourites for the tournament, were staring down the barrel when Australia made 163 for 5. When Taylor came in at first wicket down in the seventh over, the asking rate was 9.3 runs an over.
Undaunted by Australian sledging, Taylor played a perfectly- pitched innings of 76 not out from 53 balls which saw England home with three balls to spare. They won the final easily against New Zealand.
Clare Connor, the head of England women's cricket, said: "The power, precision and clinical nature of that innings delivered a message on the biggest stage as to the enormous progress made in the women's game: new fans and support were won and perceptions were changed."
Taylor was never to be quite the same player again but in 126 one-day internationals she scored 4,101 runs. She also played 15 Tests and 27 Twenty20 internationals.
Among her litany of achievements is the 156 she made against India at Lord's – the highest score in an ODI at the ground by man or woman. It is rightly marked by a full-sized action photograph of her alongside outstanding men.
She has played for England for 14 years and probably knew it was time to go when the selectors began to recognise that the prime years for women cricketers in future may well end in the late 20s because other considerations intrude.
"There are so many people to thank who have helped me achieve my dreams," she said. "I remember sitting down after the 2000 Women's World Cup in New Zealand and talking about my ambition of becoming one of the best batters in the world. It has been a long process with plenty of ups and downs, culminating in outstanding personal and team success with England in 2009."
Taylor did what few can: she changed perceptions of her sport.
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