In the summer of 2019, I saw two pieces of fielding which I will never forget. The first was Fran Wilson’s “Catch of the Century” at Chelmsford. The second was at first glance more prosaic.
At Guildford, Surrey Stars were in the field as the ball was run down through backward point and the batsmen jogged through for an easy single. The boundary fielder, having run around from third man, picked up the ball and began the action of throwing it back to the wicket keeper, who was standing casually over the stumps, with one hand on her hip as if queuing for the bus.
As the ball was leaving the fielder’s hand, the keeper nonchalantly stuck out a glove just to her right, and then waited… and waited… for what seemed like an eternity as the ball arched through the air… until finally it popped right into her mit.
I’d actually be surprised if any of the several-hundred people there at Guildford that afternoon even noticed what I’d seen, but it was nonetheless quite remarkable. From the moment the ball had left the boundary fielder’s hand, Sarah Taylor – because… of course that’s who the wicket keeper was – had judged its trajectory consummately and stuck out a hand to exactly where it was going to end up… and it had!
It was Sarah Taylor in a nutshell – the swagger; the poise; and the pitch-perfect execution.
I first met “Squirt” when she was a teenager, and women’s cricket was still a niche attraction being played in front of one man and his dog – I was the man that day… and I didn’t even have a dog! Taylor had already made her England debut, and there was a star quality about her, but also an unpretentious simplicity as she cadged-about for a lift to the train station afterwards, having not yet passed her driving test!
I next encountered her at an England match. Walking around the boundary while England were batting, two young girls of around 10 or 12 grabbed her and asked them to autograph their t-shirts, which of course she did, meanwhile charming them with a few minutes of conversation, which I’m willing to bet those two girls, whoever they were, still remember.
That was Sarah Taylor in a nutshell too – the warmth; the charisma; and the time she had for the fans.
And throughout her career, none of that changed – at the very first match she played after her comeback from her well-documented mental health layoff, she was the first player out to sign autographs and take selfies with the young fans who’d come along to see her play.
With bat in hand, she reminded me of no one more than David Gower – as he was the most naturally gifted batsman of his era, male or female, so was she of hers. At her best she was imperious, with a classical cover drive to die for, though like Gower she could frustrate, as another insouciant waft ended up going to hand.
As a wicket keeper however, she frustrated only the opposition batsmen, with more magic moments than a box of Quality Street – topped by that catch at Hove to dismiss Jodie Fields in the 2015 Women’s Ashes.
The best of her generation? Without a doubt!
The best we’ll ever see? I think so too!