“Life will knock us down, but we can choose whether or not to stand back up.”
These words from the 2010 Hollywood Movie, The Karate Kid, perfectly sum up the story of England women’s cricket team’s keeper-batswoman, Sarah Taylor. Life can knock us down anytime and that too, in a ruthless manner. The memories of the incident leave our legs trembling whenever we want to stand back up.
No matter how much we want to start things over once again, our past keeps haunting us. However, our sheer will-power helps us to overcome any hurdle in our life.
It is up to us if we want to get back up or not. Most importantly, it is only us who can fight and beat our own internal demons that keep messing with our heads. Taylor’s story is a perfect example of that and probably an inspiration to all those struggling to deal with their own demons.
Success at her feet - The rise
The 28-year old was at the pinnacle of success a couple of years back. After her international debut in 2006, Taylor emerged as a vital cog of the English top-order over the years. Achievements like the fastest woman to 1000 ODI runs (2009), back-to-back T20I Women’s Cricketer of the Year awards (2012 and 2013), and ODI women’s cricketer of the year award (2014), are testament to her prolific run over the years. Her influence as a player was so enormous on the cricket world that she achieved a couple of feats that no other women’s cricketer had ever achieved. She was the first women’s cricketer to find a place in the highly prestigious ’Legends Lane’ at The BrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground at Hove. Legends Lane has acknowledged greats like Tony Greig, Mushtaq Ahmed, Imran Khan among others, who have worn the Sussex jersey with pride over the years. And in 2015, Taylor became the first of her kind to have found a place among those names.
“I feel really honoured to take my place in Legends Lane alongside cricketing heroes at Sussex such as Luke Wright, Imran Khan, and Ted Dexter. The women’s game has been transformed since I first joined Sussex in 2004. I’m only 26 so I am looking forward to continuing my career at the highest level for many years to come,” Taylor had said.
If that wasn’t enough, she went on to become the first women’s cricketer to play men’s grade cricket in Australia in the same year. She appeared as a wicket-keeper in a match for the Northern Districts against Port Adelaide. Taylor was absolutely ecstatic with the opportunity and felt happy that she had been able to prove her merit as a player irrespective of her gender. It was truly a remarkable achievement in itself as her name will always grace the golden pages of history books forever.
“I’ve always wanted to push myself and check where I’m at in terms of my cricket. It shows that if you’re good enough, doors will open … I just want to build that respect that I’m not a girl, I’m just another player,” Taylor had said ahead of the historic match.
Made tough since her childhood
Throughout her life and cricket career, she has always been a person who likes to go against the flow. Rather, she was brought up in an environment which encouraged her to do the right thing without being afraid of anyone. She was lucky enough to find mentors at an early age who propelled her on the right path. They taught her to give more importance to her abilities and qualities and bother less about her gender despite cricket being a male-dominated sport.
Taylor was one of the two students from Brighton College who set the record for the youngest players to be awarded a place in the England women’s cricket team at the age of only 17. The whole school, including the faculties and the students, was excited on hearing the news especially because it was a fitting answer to the then MCC President, Robin Marlar’s outrageous comments.
Brighton College had a unique system of letting girls play along with boys in the school’s First XI. They simply gave more credit to a player’s abilities than their gender. However, it didn’t go down well with a highly influential person like Marlar, to whom the system appeared to be a total joke. Marlar had questioned the inclusion of girls in the playing XI in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph:
"Did you know that Brighton College are playing girls in their First XI? Girls. It's absolutely outrageous. If there's an 18-year-old who can bowl at 80mph and he's been brought up properly then he shouldn't want to hurt a lady at any cost."
However, Marlar’s petty comments couldn’t even bother the school. Richard Cairns, the Head-Teacher, had said that playing inter-school cricket at the top-level, had given the two girls- Holly Colvin and Sarah Taylor, an X-factor as compared to the others.
Even Clare Connor, a former England women’s team captain, had raised her voice in support of the school in which she had studied. She had said that the School had always done the best for its pupils. If it meant putting girls on the same team as boys purely on merit, it was definitely in their best interests.
"It creates quite a stir when the team arrives at some of the top public boys' schools and the boys find themselves facing two girls," Cairns had said.
"Robin Marlar's comments were pretty outrageous and the pupils here were flabbergasted because they couldn't understand the mentality of someone who would say that. It showed a huge generation gap."
The fall that brought her down to the bottom
Such a strong character build-up from an early age had moulded Taylor into an absolute gem of a player. She had made the headlines for a decade for all the right reasons. The swashbuckling batswoman seemed like a juggernaut on a record-breaking spree. By the end of 2015, she had 3261 ODI runs and 2005 T20I runs at averages of around 40 and 30 to her name. Moreover, she also stood as the fifth highest run scorer in T20I history till that time.
Her free-flowing nature, classy stroke-play and big hitting capabilities made her a star over the years. She was one amongst the first kind of those women’s players, who helped to bridge their gap with men’s cricket.
However, she soon found herself in troubled waters. She started struggling with her form as 2016 dawned. Taylor scored only 43 runs in the three-match ODI series against South Africa women in February. Another poor run followed in the Women’s World T20 in India where she amassed only 49 runs in 5 matches.
It seemed like a familiar script- a star player suddenly gets out of form and struggles to perform on the field. Every cricketer goes through such a rough patch in their career. One where it seems like nothing is going right for them. However, these periods could be overcome with patience, hard work and self-belief as long as these are problems pertaining to the game and technique. Little did anyone know about the inner turmoil that Taylor had been going through for the last few years.
In May 2016, the World suddenly turned upside-down for her fans. She announced that she wanted to take an indefinite break from Cricket in order to deal with her anxiety issues which had troubled her for almost 4 years.
"For the past four years I've been suffering with anxiety, and obviously it's my health and my health is my first priority. It was starting to affect my performance in cricket but taking time out is a way of trying to fix me as a person and to prolong my career,” Taylor had said speaking to the BBC in May, 2016.
"It happened mainly when I was about to bat, that expectation of wanting to score runs. The nerves would hit me, but it would be nerves plus something else, and I was always confused as to what it was. It was a genuine kind of panic, the heart races, you feel faint, there have been times I've had to run off into the changing room and be sick through sheer panic," she had added.
She led an individual fight against the disorder as long as she could. It requires immense courage to walk out to the field despite knowing that something is not right with you. Fighting against the opposition along with fighting the demons inside you is not something for the faint-hearted. Moreover, performing well despite all your problems shows a keen sense of professionalism and the sheer will to perform.
For four long years, she kept her problem to herself. However, when it started affecting the team along with her, she knew it was time to take some necessary action in the best interests of the team. She decided to part ways from the sport at least for a temporary period if not forever. But, she knew that she would return again. Her inner voice had told her that she would don the national jersey again.
"I would like to say that I am 99 percent sure that I will play again. I want to put an England shirt back on and train with the girls, I miss them terribly. I will do everything in my power to become healthy, but I can't say that that's going to happen. But in a positive way, I want to play cricket again and I hope to be back."
A period of long and hard 12 months followed. Every day she had to face the same thing again and again. Waking up in the morning simply meant quite a struggle for her. And then she had to deal with her fear of meeting new people and going to new places afterwards. However, she was lucky enough to find the kind of help and support she needed as soon as she revealed her problem.
It wasn’t easy but she dealt with her problems with courage every day. Slowly, her health started improving with time and she started feeling the urge to train with her teammates again.
In April 2017, she started training for the Women’s World Cup and got selected for the tournament a couple of months later. A year back, she didn’t even imagine that she would be in that good a state to represent England in the World Cup. Before the beginning of the tournament, Taylor Spoke to All Out Cricket about her journey during the previous 12 months. She had said:
“To be honest, when I took that break I didn’t look too far ahead. I couldn’t. Literally getting out of bed was the highlight of a day, and then accepting that doing something brilliant might mean walking outside. The World Cup never even got into my head.
“Then, all of a sudden, I found myself wanting to train again, and it actually benefited my day-to-day learning and my anxiety. There’s still social anxiety; new places are still a struggle for me, and I still have to push through those on a day-to-day basis. I’m realistic that there will probably be some bumps. But if I get through it, I should look back and be completely proud of myself.”
The phoenix rising from the Ashes once again
The tournament is already halfway through. England are strong contenders to make it to the finals on home soil. The most interesting thing in England’s journey in the tournament so far has been Taylor’s performances with the bat. In the 6 matches that England have played so far, she has shown a highly positive attitude.
She has amassed 297 runs at a mammoth average of 59.40 so far. And those runs include a career best score of 147 and another match-winning knock of 74*. She is looking forward to the future, leaving her gloomy past behind.
She seems a lot calmer now. Her head seems clear as it is evident from the way she is playing and racking up consistent runs. More importantly, she seems to be in control of herself. The nervousness that had crept in her batting last year seems to have gone. She seems to be the most comfortable while she is out there on the field than anywhere else. In other words, it is a kind of a rebirth for Taylor - one she would be very thankful for.
Published 14 Jul 2017, 12:56 IST
“Batting’s more fun now than it was back then. Once you eliminate all the things that are going on inside your head, you’re able to just purely enjoy the game. People are saying that I look a lot calmer now. Where I’m most comfortable is out in the middle: batting, wicket-keeping and being around the girls.”