There was a time when women’s cricket – what little we saw – didn’t look right. The players didn’t look like athletes, they played in skirts – skirts with kick-pleats – and the game seemed slow and, well, not very good. This was about the same time that (many of) their male counterparts didn’t look like athletes, played in elasticated waist trousers and the game seemed slow and, well, not very good. As the beer and bellies disappeared from the men’s game, the women started to wear sports kit, train like professionals (and soon became professionals) and their game looked fast and, well, very good. In the vanguard of that change, the youngest of the big name England players is Sarah Taylor – wicketkeeper, batter and, just maybe, icon. Because Ms Taylor may be about to play for Sussex.
Will she be the only woman to play professional men’s cricket? (For there’ll surely be an appearance now won’t there?) Are her skills uniquely suited to crossing a divide that few sports breach – for good, but often not so good, reason? How will she perform?
Sarah Taylor is a dazzlingly skillful wicket-keeper (even if her brilliance may be shining slightly less brightly now she has enhanced batting responsibilities in the England team). Her hands are swift, with the ball melting into the gloves as it does for the best keepers. Her footwork is quick and accurate and gets her head into the right position to give her the balance that is the underpinning of sound technique in any sport. She has something of her namesake Bob Taylor and the peerless Alan Knott about her – born keepers, all three, not biffing batsmen with gloves on (she is, in this sense, an anti-Matthew Wade, admirable player though he is).
But can she bat at Eight in county cricket? Why not? Shiv Chanderpaul’s slight frame and ability to cut, drive and deflect the ball into empty spaces has garnered over 10000 Test runs with just one six every seven innings; VVS Laxman hit just 5 sixes in 225 Test innings, and he was pretty good too. Weight of shot – though obviously useful – is not the only way to score, even in these accelerated times. Could Ms Taylor take on the mantle of the gifted timer of a cricket ball from VVS or the quirkiest of nurdlers from Shiv? Almost impossible! But we’ve heard that before in sport.
If Ms Taylor does hold her own at Sussex, even in the Second XI, expect others to follow, most likely in the form of the game gushing with testosterone – Twenty20. No, I haven’t lost my mind, forecasting a female Keiron Pollard or female Chris Gayle (he’d quite like one of those I suspect) – here’s how it would work. Batting at 11 in T20 is as close to irrelevant as makes no difference, so teams can afford to play one or two pure bowlers. And what type of bowling works best in T20? Canny slow stuff, giving no pace to the batsmen, varying flight, pace and revs on the ball. Watch women’s cricket and there are plenty of bowlers doing exactly this, with trajectories that one seldom sees in men’s cricket, the ball sometimes appearing to stop in the air, so tortured is it’s journey to the other end.
Somewhere, there’s a Chris(tine) Harris who will deliver spells of 4-0-26-1 consistently in the middle overs of a T20 match. And where she bowls, others will follow.
You can tweet me @garynaylor999