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Cricket news - Sarah Taylor - she who slayed her demons for greatness
It's March, 2016, in Delhi ahead of the T20 WC semi-final double header, which happens to involve both England's men and women against New Zealand and Australia, respectively.
Such is the grandeur of the hotels in this part of the world, all four teams are able to call it home. In a foyer full of the game's global stars, Sarah Taylor sticks out for a simple reason. She's in her pyjamas.
It is here, legs crossed and occupying most of a three-seater couch, that she cuts the most relaxed of figures. She has always been engaging, charismatic and brutally honest in her interviews. One bit, in particular, stands out - when Taylor explains the merits of going about your life in a trial-and-error manner:
"There are times when you're just going through life and you've been in the same environments all your life. But, actually, putting yourself in a situation where you've got absolutely no idea what's going to happen. Putting yourself miles away from your comfort zone as possible and seeing how you react. How you deal with things. That can do amazing things for you. Especially when you deal with them badly."
Three months later, Taylor would take an indefinite break from cricket. Her anxiety had reached a point where she needed round-the-clock care. Friends and family knew of her battles but this was the first time the wider public had been informed. In hindsight, the signs were there from that Delhi hotel foyer, though it would have been crass and counter-productive to have made the leap.
She was in her pyjamas because she would spend all day in her room, not wanting to speak to anyone or expose herself to the crowds that generally congregate at these hotels, even earning herself the nickname 'Room Service Sarah'. Those moments of getting out of her comfort zone and into situations where she would "deal with them badly" had taken its toll.
On Friday, Sarah Taylor announced her retirement from international cricket at the age of 30. Though there is a sadness that anxiety is what has led to this decision, it is hard to look back on her career and find much she dealt with badly.
From her England debut in 2006, Taylor went on to make 226 appearances across all three formats, with 6,533 runs scored with an effortless elegance usually reserved for left-handers. That her career played out in a golden period for women's cricket in this country is of no coincidence. She has winners medals from two World Cups (2009 and 2017), a T20 WC (2009) and three Ashes triumphs. Personally, she was a four-time ICC women's cricketer of the year across the limited-overs formats.
Perhaps she will reflect on the 2017 50-over trophy most fondly, coming as it did a year after her enforced break. Taylor always knew she would return, but to do so at international level so soon, in a home World Cup, and post the numbers she did, ranks with her most impressive feats. 396 runs at an average of 49.50, with a century and two fifties, and two key contributions of 54 in the semi-final against South Africa and 45 against India in the final.
It was behind the stumps, though, where Taylor did her most outstanding, occasionally staggering, work. Statistically, no woman has effected more than her 232 international dismissals (across all forms). Visually, few wicketkeepers have made the craft look so fluid.
There were few better standing up, and while her technique was immaculate, her wits set her apart, especially when it came to stumpings. The ball would melt into her gloves and be quickly juxtaposed by the swift severity of the whip of her wrists as she clipped off a bail. All in, she caught 104 unsuspecting batters short of their ground on the international scene and a great many of those captured on camera in the social media age have, rightly, gone viral.
It was after one stumping against South Africa in 2018 when Australia's legendary gloveman Adam Gilchrist referred to her simply as the "best in the world". No caveat required. Countless others regard her as the finest in the modern game, regardless of gender. In an period where comparing men's and women's sport brings out the very worst in online discussion - on both sides - Taylor's unparalleled brilliance has been an olive branch.
Over the last 12 months, there were tough times again. She ruled herself out of last year's T20 WC in the Caribbean and only took part in the India ODI series in February because there was no internal air travel, with all three ODIs hosted in Mumbai. She managed just 13 runs across those three innings.
She also struggled during the Ashes before sitting out the Twenty20 leg of the multi-format series with Australia, which England lost comprehensively. The result cost head coach Mark Robinson his job and, maybe, losing someone so integral to Taylor's return from her 2016 break made the decision to end this chapter a little easier.
Still, this does feel like a retirement with closure. Taylor actually took her first break from the game at 21 because she wanted to experience the life she had parked for one as an international sportswoman. But such was her love for cricket, she was back playing within two months of her winter in New Zealand, eventually playing 11 matches for Wellington. The following year saw the twin World Cup and T20 WC successes of 2009.
More than a decade on, this more permanent step down from the top level is with the comfort of knowing she does so on her own terms. A career fulfilled with as many accolades as memories.
On Thursday, England and Somerset legend Marcus Trescothick waved goodbye to the game altogether at Taunton after 26 seasons as a professional. He too played the last of his international matches at the age of 30 in 2006 - the year Taylor debuted - as a result of coming to terms with his mental health.
Still, he continued to tick off milestones and enhance his estimable reputation with domestic performances. Given the changing landscape of women's cricket, Taylor can do the same. And just like Trescothick, Taylor's legacy will continue on when she decides to walk away completely.
Here was a woman who riled MCC president Robin Marlar when she was first selected for England as a 17-year old because she played in the men's first XI for Brighton College. In 2015, she then became the first woman to play first grade cricket in Australia.
And, perhaps more importantly, she was another who showed the rest of us that not only do the greats suffer, but those who suffer can still achieve greatness.
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