‘Shocked’, ‘numb’, ‘devastated’; just some of the words used by James Taylor’s friends and colleagues in reaction to his sudden retirement from all forms of cricket. The 26 year old was taken to hospital last week after feeling unwell during a pre-season fixture against Cambridge. He has since been diagnosed with ARVC, a serious heart condition similar to the one that left footballer Fabrice Muamba clinically dead for 78 minutes back in 2012. This leaves Taylor needing an operation, but even a successful one will not allow him to return as a player to the professional sport which he loves.
Taylor was finally beginning to finally settle. Captain of Nottinghamshire for the past three years, he was set to be a permanent fixture in England’s international set-up after spells in, and out, of both the Test and ODI sides. Since bursting onto the scene in 2008 (Taylor was Leicestershire’s youngest player to score 1,000 championship runs in a season), Taylor has broken many records and defied many conventions. In List A cricket, 5,365 runs at an average of 53.11 demonstrates just what a talent he is; the fourth highest in history. A high score of 291 only last summer further emphasised the constant improvements that he was making to his game. In his last ten ODIs for England he had averaged over 60 and he had been touted as a future ODI captain having shown his innate leadership abilities for Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and the England Lions.
It seems impossibly cruel that someone who has worked as hard as he has for so many years has had his career snatched from his control. Taylor is undoubtedly one of the fittest cricketers in the current game; a regular in the gym, he is the best runner between the wickets that I have seen in my lifetime, and anyone who has watched him bat or field will testify to his athleticism. His use of feet, especially against spin bowlers, has been a joy to watch, and his two remarkable catches at short-leg against South Africa at the end of last year are a reminder of just how brilliant a close fielder he is. To have such misfortune befall such a model professional leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth. There are undoubtedly going to be a number of ‘what ifs’, both from Taylor and also those close to him.
Fabrice Muamba reached out to Taylor on Twitter, reminding him that ‘having life is a great option’. Taylor replied positively, citing his fellow sportsman as an ‘inspiration.’ Although shockingly hard to accept, it is at least a relief that the condition has been identified before it could escalate. Muamba found out the hard way and was moments away from death. Despite understandable difficulty in drawing on positives at this current time, I am sure that Taylor and those close to him will be consoled that the doctors have identified his life-threatening condition.
It seems impossibly cruel that someone who has worked as hard as he has for so many years has had his career snatched from his control
When I interviewed Taylor last year, one of things that stuck with me was his colossal drive. It was at a time when Taylor had faced yet another set-back to his international chances, but he always retained his dignity – never criticising those who, in the eyes of many, were thought to have overlooked him unfairly. Taylor has always been a fighter. He was determined that those who had doubts over his credibility as an international batsman due to his
stature should be proved wrong. From every cricketing setback he has been confronted by, Taylor has bounced back stronger, and the hashtag #lifestooshort added at the end of his Facebook post gives an insight into his steely resolve. To this end, even in this ‘toughest week’ of his life, Taylor has been nothing but his charismatic self on social media. He is showing enormous courage and has reacted with immense grace in adversity. He has been inundated with letters and cards, no more so than from young fans. The younger generation idolise him; testament to the way he carries himself in the public eye.
The qualities that made Taylor a model professional sportsman should give him, and us, optimism for the future. There is no doubt that Taylor will be incredibly successful at whatever he turns his hand to next. Michael Vaughan has reassured him that ‘the cricket family’ will look after him. Coaching and punditry spring immediately to mind, but Taylor has other strings to his bow, holding a deep interest in property. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the fact that Taylor has been dealt a viciously unlucky hand.
The outpouring of sympathy from students and staff at Shrewsbury School has been particularly moving. In Taylor’s final year at Shrewsbury, he averaged 179.60 which culminated in him winning the coveted Young Wisden Schools Cricketer of the Year, an award won also by Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. Many at the school have followed his career closely, and even those who joined the school after he did, take great pride in what he has achieved both in the county and international arenas. Furthermore, his drive and persistence, even when the door to international cricket appeared closed should serve as inspiration to many. The school’s Latin motto, ‘intus si recte, ne labora’ which translates as; ‘If all is well within, then worry not’, is one which Taylor can perhaps draw solace from in this difficult time. At 26, he has already achieved so much, but to have life is perhaps the greatest prize of all. With life, Taylor has both the character and qualities to achieve much in other spheres. This, at least, bodes well for the next chapter.