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Cricket news - Finding the right balance, beyond the 22 yards
Since returning to cricket in 2017 after an indefinite break to manage her anxiety, Sarah Taylor now has a firmer grasp of her illness. With that, she has been able to not just take ownership of her mental health, but also identify triggers that cause her to lose her way. One of those is air travel. Specifically, internal flights.
During the first few months of her enforced sabbatical, home in Sussex was her sole safe space. Eventually, that extended to her car as she summoned the courage to take to the road and visit familiar places. On-field success does not come bigger than a World Cup, which Taylor ticked off in the summer of 2017, but bigger figurative and literal strides came at the start of 2018. Having been unable to walk more than five minutes away from, as she put it, "a place that feels safe", she took off on a whim one day and ended up at the Natural History Museum.
While long-haul travel is fine, all told, especially now that England Women have been afforded the luxury of business class seats, it is the more cattle-herding nature of domestic journeys that sets off Taylor's anxiety.
"Major flights, you have your own space," Taylor explains. "But with internal flights you obviously don't get that sort of luxury. If you have a panic attack, you don't want to be surrounded by people. That's just the fear of it."
For this reason, she did not make the squad for the T20 WC in the Caribbean, which is a logistical nightmare with the nature of the planes used and the inconsistent fight schedule. Importantly, the decision to leave her at home was one taken pre-emptively by the England management. India, by contrast presents a more manageable proposition than usual: all three of England's ODIs are to be staged at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
It won't be her first away tour since returning: the sanctity of four wheels on the ground meant the 2017/18 Ashes in Australia worked, especially as the three ODIs, three T20Is and Test took place on the east coast. But this series should see her first international appearance since July 2018. Her previous visit to India was for 2016's T20 WC.
"I am quite grateful that the ECB are letting me decide. This is my decision and it's actually quite a nice feeling. Within the last three months it's become a 'this is what I'm going to do', and that will benefit me more rather than a 'right, what do you want me to do?'"
Twenty20s follow, along with another tour of Sri Lanka, but Taylor will have returned home by then. Both legs are seen as a chance to try new things - personnel and plans among them - and for the top-tier keeper-bat, it is a chance to bravely test the limits of her anxiety. It's easier than it sounds because, well, she loves flying.
"Even turbulence - I think it's fun," she says - perhaps the most Sarah Taylor utterance going. "It's not actually the flying process. That, I enjoy: just lie down, put a few movies on. Unfortunately, my anxiety developed into a small part of agoraphobia. Once the plane is in the air, I can't exactly say, 'can you stop and let me off?'. Maybe I'll just get my own jet. And fly it myself!"
On the subject of taking control, she is more pro-active in her current course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which involves "a lot of talking about things, but just trying to challenge any negative thoughts". That, she says, has been the toughest issue - dispelling negative thoughts and replacing them with positives. As Taylor talks through these matters, she gestures taking a thought from her head, as if plucking a story hair, and throwing it to one side.
Those around her, particularly in her professional life, continue to do their bit, from sitting in on meetings to ease Taylor's concerns to more hands-on methods in the changing room. "It works like clockwork now - coaches know what to say and what not to say. Our psychologist is incredible: she can spot things before I even notice. It doesn't matter if I'm having a good day or a bad day."
"There are always towels available. Everyone's got a packet of sweets ready - MAOAM, by the way. Everything is in place."
Reassuringly for those who enjoy watching Taylor, perhaps her safest place remains on a cricket pitch. Whether in front or behind the stumps, there remains the assurance and skill that arguably hid the worries that can consume her from those on the outside. ODI century number seven, against South Africa at her home ground of Hove last June, was crisp mixed with a bit of arrogance (the good kind).
Cricket has always been intertwined with mental health, and its beauty truly lies in it being a sport that preys on weakness. Even the most skilled, headstrong combatant can lose their way, and Taylor appreciates she has much to consider on both sides of the coin. Regardless of the struggle, she is keen to master both.
"In my life, I feel like there is a good balance between the mental health side and the cricket side. I feel I've not nailed the cricket side, I've not nailed either side, but if I'm in a good place mentally you can probably see it on the field.
"I've always been that sort of player, if I'm in a good place I will play well. If I can get everything mentally right then I just know it will benefit me because I'm not worrying about it while I'm playing cricket. I can just purely focus on cricket.
"I hope now that I've got the balance right and the cricket can take care of itself."
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