In a week in which England’s young trio of Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers dominated the headlines, for one sunny September afternoon in Birmingham it was a 26-year-old “unknown” spinner from Hampshire who stole the limelight, turning the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final on its head.
In a spell which utterly baffled the BBC and Sky commentators, who were scarcely aware of her name before today’s final, off-spinner Charlotte Taylor took six wickets for 34 runs across her 10 overs – the best return by any bowler across the entire competition.
Despite the early loss of Lauren Winfield-Hill, Northern Diamonds looked to be well in control of their chase at 74-1 after 14 overs, before Taylor’s decisive intervention knocked the stuffing right out of them – Holly Armitage, Alex MacDonald, Jenny Gunn and Bess Heath all deceived by her stock delivery (the arm-ball), with Diamonds reduced to 96-6.
MacDonald’s dismissal in particular will be one she won’t be keen to watch back on the Sky highlights reel – Taylor forced her back so late that she hit the top of off-stump with her own bat, and was out hit wicket for a golden duck: not something you see much at this level of cricket.
Then, with Diamonds threatening a last-ditch late surge, captain Georgia Adams brought Taylor back on in the 35th over and she worked her magic yet again, trapping Beth Langston LBW (21) attempting the sweep, and dislodging half-centurion Sterre Kalis, who sent a catch up to Adams at mid-on.
In a matter of minutes Taylor became the unexpected hero of the hour, as Vipers romped home by 38 runs. Adams, whose 80 with the bat had earlier set things up nicely for the Vipers and who might on any other day have expected to be crowned Player of the Match, had the grace to step back and let Taylor lead the team off the pitch.
As we reported last week, Taylor’s role in this competition came as a surprise to herself as much as anyone – she had lined up a commentary gig with BBC Radio Solent for the Vipers game against the Stars at Hove, which she had to pull out of when she was selected to play in the match!
“About 3 or 4 weeks ago now I got the call from Lottie,” Taylor told us after the final. “I’d made 77 in a club game the week before, and I thought that might have done it, but actually they wanted me for my bowling.”
“It was an amazing feeling to get the call. Within a week I was training with the guys!”
Taylor made her senior domestic debut for Hampshire back in May 2010, when the county side were still languishing in the depths of Division 3, and the following season was regularly opening the batting for them. In September 2015, she hit a memorable 165* against Northants, helping Hampshire secure promotion to Division 2 at the end of the season. (They of course then went on to reach Division 1 and win the Women’s County Championship in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018.)
Now, with today’s performance, she has fixed her name in the record books, but with the ball, not the bat – she finishes as leading overall wicket-taker in the RHF Trophy.
So how did the batter become a bowler?
“I was out for a while with an ACL injury,” Taylor explains. “That took me out of the game for 2 and a bit years. And then when I came back from that I just wanted a way to get in that Hampshire side, and I thought that they had a lot of good batting so I thought maybe working on my bowling might be a way to get in with something different. Lottie saw it and she was impressed, and I wouldn’t be here without her.”
“Now apparently I’m a bowling all-rounder who bats at 10!”
What is it about her bowling that has bamboozled so many? “I bowl genuine arm-balls,” she explains. “I turn one if the pitch is turning, but on a very good batting track like that I wouldn’t, I just get the ball to drift away. I back myself to bowl on a spot and it worked for me today.”
At age 26, Taylor exemplifies what the new regional structure is all about – she won’t be getting an England call-up any time soon; and she won’t ever earn her entire living from cricket. She works for an aerospace company, selling aeroplane parts, and is fortunate enough that her employers – Curtiss-Wright – allow her the flexibility to have time off to train and play cricket when she needs it.
But the opportunity to have access to a professional set-up, and train year-round, is nonetheless a transformative one for her.
“It’s fantastic,” she says. “When I was growing up, playing professional cricket was such a long way off, and now to think that I’m actually playing professional cricket while I’m holding down a full time job elsewhere – it’s a struggle, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and long may it continue for a good few more years.”
A few weeks ago, after the first round of matches, I wrote that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy had thrown up a dilemma which was never quite resolved in the KSL: “are we trying to develop the next generation of England players, or are we trying to put on the best display possible?… As the matches in the RHF unfold over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see what answers – if any – emerge.”
Taylor’s performance today – done in front of the Sky cameras, for all to see – is that answer: this competition, and indeed this new regional structure, is about opportunities for all, regardless of age, and regardless of whether anyone has even ever heard your name before.
At the end of a strange and difficult season, that feels like something to celebrate.