In his brief test career so far, James Taylor has had the shadow of Kevin Pietersen looming large over his shoulder. In his first innings at the highest level, as he was trying to come to terms with the hardships of Test cricket with a resolute 34, there was Pietersen flaying his way to a masterful knock of 149 at the other end.
During his second test at the Lord’s, more than the on-field action, Pietersen’s infamous fallout with the ECB caught the attention. Now, his opportunity to make an Ashes debut hinges on the condition of Pietersen’s troublesome calf.
If England were looking for a like-to-like batsman as a cover for the injured Pietersen for the third test, Taylor would be the last man to fit the bill. He is, at least on the face of it, an antithesis of the former in every conceivable manner. Neither does his diminutive frame register its presence in the way the tall and muscular frame of Pietersen does, nor is his compact and almost dour approach to batting anyway near to the flamboyance of the South African born.
But the small sized youngster has built a big repute with a consistent run of tall scores over five seasons in the domestic circuit that is hard to ignore. Starting his first class career as a teenager for Leicestershire in the second division County Championship, he caught the eye with his impressive temperament and was earmarked for greater deeds.
In only his second season, he amassed 1184 runs at an average of 66, becoming the youngest batsman in Leicestershire’s history to breach the 1000 runs barrier, and won the Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year award.
Taylor was soon handed the reins of the England Lions team and he responded by notching up two centuries in three games against the visiting Sri Lanka A team. The national call up duly followed as he made his ODI debut against Ireland.
In a bid to test himself in the First Division group, Taylor moved to Nottinghamshire and though the returns were not as handsome, he got fast tracked into the Test scene after Ravi Bopara opted out of the South Africa series due to personal reasons.
Facing an attack consisting of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander is as tough as it gets for batsmen in world cricket at the moment, and although Taylor showed plenty of grit and courage in his debut innings, scores of 34, 10 and 4 didn’t do justice to his potential.
He lost his spot in the India bound England test squad to Joe Root and had to be content with a place in the England Performance Program team to the subcontinent. He was asked by the selectors to work on his technique and once again prove his worth in first class cricket.
And that he did. Displaying the hunger that got him noticed earlier, he piled up 824 runs this season to get himself back into the radar. He also showed he can up the ante when required during the course of a career best unbeaten innings of 115 off just 77 balls against Hampshire in a List A encounter, which included seven boundaries and seven sixes .
Playing as a guest for Sussex against Australia at the request of the ECB, he played an unbeaten knock of 121, his third ton of the season, to vindicate the move. Though he wasn’t at his fluent best – he was dropped twice before reaching his hundred – his five-and-a-half-hour effort brought his mental strength to the fore.
Assessing his knock after the practice game he said, “Mentally and technically I feel in a good place. I’m delighted to score runs, I don’t really mind how. It’s not how, it’s how many, and that’s how I go about my game.” Should Pietersen pass the fitness test and take his spot in the batting line up, Taylor must ensure that he continues to churn out runs in domestic cricket with this single minded approach.
If, however, he happens to make his Ashes debut in the third test at the Old Trafford, it will be upto him to make it count. With runs under his belt, against an Australian attack depleted by the absence of the injured James Pattinson, on a surface that is expected to be good for batting – this might be his best opportunity to redeem his Test career and book a permanent slot in the England test squad.