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Sarah Taylor, an inspiration


Sarah_Taylor_England_Womens_CricketWhenever we talked about the best wicketkeepers in the game it was always Bob Taylor or Ian Healy or Adam Gilchrist or even someone like MS Dhoni. However, things have changed in recent times. Now if you would ask for the world’s best keeper, a large number of fans and critics would not mention any male cricketer, and instead choose Sarah Taylor.

Sarah Taylor–with 232 international dismissals and 6,533 international runs–has been widely regarded as the world’s best wicketkeeper for the last few years. Her sudden retirement in September came as a surprising decision to some; as she was already struggling with health issues for the last few years, her stepping down was probably not shocking to many.

Sarah Taylor’s growth as a woman cricketer inspired a generation. She was never afraid of challenges and was one of the best of her generation. She fought on-field against other teams for England, and struggled off-field with her own issues, so her journey was not smooth. But the impact she left on the cricket in general, and more specifically on women’s cricket is enormous.

Sarah was a prolific batter, especially in the limited over versions of the game, where her attacking batting at top of the order gave England valuable momentum on many occasions. She was lightning-quick behind the stumps and the highlights of her wicketkeeping skills were right foot movement, swift collection of the ball and excellent anticipation. Specially, her collection down the leg side was phenomenal and many batters had lost their wicket in a moment of imbalance, giving her the opportunity to remove the bails in a flash.

Even before making her England debut, Sarah was a part of a controversy as she and her future England teammate Holly Colvin faced the MCC’s wrath for playing in a Brighton College team along with boys. But this would not stop them. Thanks to their passion for the game, both were selected to play for the England national team in 2006.

Sarah made her England debut for all three formats in August 2006 as a 17-year old and pretty soon established herself as one of England’s mainstays in the top order and behind the stumps. She was the youngest player to reach 1,000 runs in Women’s One Day International cricket.

In 2008 Sarah and Caroline Atkins added 268 runs while opening against South Africa Women at Lord’s. Back then it was the highest partnership for any wicket in women’s ODIs. The record was later broken by India’s Deepti Sharma and Punam Raut, who made 320 runs against Ireland women in 2017. Only a few months later, Sarah had another huge partnership of 275 runs with Tammy Beaumont against the South Africans again. Currently, Sarah’s two partnerships sit 3rd and 4th in the list of highest partnerships in Women’s ODIs.

She excelled in the limited over formats of the game. In ODIs she has more than 4,000 runs with seven hundreds and 20 fifties. Her seven centuries put her in the joint sixth position along with Mithali Raj in the list of women with the most number of ODI centuries. In T20 Internationals, Sarah has nearly 2,200 runs with 16 half-centuries.

Sarah was part of two of England’s World Cup triumphs in 2009 and 2017, the 2009 World T20 triumph, and also the victorious England team in the Women’s Ashes. In the BBL and Kia Super league, her talent shone through. She was awarded the ICC Women’s T20 player of the year thrice - in 2012, 2013 and 2018. In between, she was also awarded ICC Women’s ODI player of the year in 2014.

In 2015, Sarah once again got involved in something unusual but exciting. She created a lot of hype when she took part in a Grade A match in Australia, turning out for Northern Districts against Port Adelaide at Salisbury Oval. She played quite a few matches for her team full of male cricketers. Her skill on display was unparallel. She also became the first woman cricketer to be inducted in the Sussex Legend’s Lane just few months ago.

But among all these success, there was an ongoing fight that Sarah had to deal with all alone. The pressure of being the best at what she did took a toll on her. She mentioned in a recent interview that being considered the best player in the world created huge pressure on her, as she became obsessed with maintaining her standard of performance. It gave her anxiety issues and she had to fight another battle for her mental health. In 2010 she took a four-month break to handle some personal issues and missed an Ashes series.

2016 was the year when things came into the open as Sarah had a terrible time during the World T20 in India in May. She could not perform well, playing a rash shot in their semi-final loss to Australia. Sarah described this phase as one of the toughest in her career; she was not enjoying the game and did not want anything to do with cricket. She still played for England, but there was a lack of focus. England coach Mark Robinson helped her by talking to her for long time and finally she decided to take another break from cricket, a decision which probably led to her losing the England captaincy following Charlotte Edwards’ retirement.

In June 2016, Sarah announced her problem with anxiety and mental health. She got support from various parts of England cricket and fans but was out of the team for a year. She made a comeback in the 2017 World cup at home. However, the anxiety issues created lots of constraints in her involvement to the game. She was not comfortable with flights and hence kept herself out of tours like 2018 World T20, which would require long bouts of air travel. She travelled by road in certain cases despite the long hours. Thankfully, her teammates were supportive and were there for her when she needed them, especially as her performance on the ground also suffered.

Sarah was not the only player to suffer with such mental health issues. There have been quite a few players in recent years (from various sports) to deal with similar struggles. In cricket, the most notable ones were Jonathon Trott, Marcus Trescothick, Michael Yardy and Sarah’s England teammate Kate Cross. Sarah has done lots of work to increase the awareness and understanding of the mental health issues among the general public, as it is important for others to understand its importance and provide support to the ones who are suffering.

On 27th September 2019, Sarah Taylor announced her retirement, citing her mental health related issues. For cricket, it is a big loss, but Sarah’s contribution as the face of women’s cricket in its growing period from 2008-2018 will always be cherished. Most importantly, her job does not end here. She is already part of various charity organizations and now will be able to focus on changing the lives of others both on and off the field.

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