Sarah Taylor, the former England international widely regarded as one of the most gifted wicketkeepers in the game, is to make a playing comeback with Welsh Fire in the Hundred.
Taylor, who announced her retirement from international cricket in September 2019 following a long battle with anxiety, said she never turned her back on domestic cricket, although she didn’t pick up her bat for nearly 18 months afterwards.
Once she did, she rediscovered something from nearly 15 years ago that signalled she could fulfil an ambition to play in the new tournament.
There were no shots off the back foot as she looked to attack and dominate the bowler and found, in her words, “some ego, aggression, dismissiveness” and a little bit of “arrogance” – all of which had gone missing as she struggled in the spotlight of international cricket and under the weight of expectation she placed on herself.
“I genuinely had to blow dust off my cricket bag,” Taylor said. “And I just felt back to me again. Weirdly enough I wasn’t batting like I was when I retired, I was batting like I was when I was back in 2006 when I made my debut… I’ve been missing that girl.
“I wanted to get back to that for so long, I was unsure how. Luckily for me becoming more grounded and more of a rounded, balanced person has helped me get that girl back essentially.”
A big part of that balance has come from teaching others. Upon her international retirement Taylor became a sports and life coach at Bede’s School in Eastbourne. Last month, she was appointed as a wicketkeeping coach with Sussex, becoming the first woman to work as a skills coach at a men’s county team and one of the few women around the world to coach in professional men’s sport.
“I just needed to shut the door on cricket, just disappear for a little bit in my own little bubble and work out a few things,” Taylor said. “I was fortunate to join up with the Sussex guys just to learn a lot about me as a coach, about how I operated in a group in that team environment and it just felt really normal again, which is what I was hiding from a little bit.
“It opened my eyes to the fact that I wanted to be part of a team again but I didn’t know to what extent. It was then a case of having that hit and I felt absolutely fine. I wasn’t scared of the idea of playing, whereas before I was.”
Taylor told ESPNcricinfo in January that she hadn’t ruled out a return to playing but the Covid-19 pandemic, which delayed the inaugural edition of the Hundred, also set back her return to the nets with her kit in storage at school while she was on furlough.
A draw for me was playing with Meg Lanning, that’s always something that I’ve wanted to do for quite a few years
Sarah Taylor on signing up for the Hundred
Taylor made 226 appearances for England, winning three Ashes series and two World Cups, in 2009 and 2017. At the time of her retirement nobody in the women’s game had effected more dismissals in all formats than her 232. She scored 6533 international runs with seven centuries and 36 fifties and she remains the tenth leading run-scorer in both ODI and T20Is.
“Once I realised I’ve not lost it completely, I might as well give it a go,” Taylor said. “The Hundred is something I would love to have been a part of – last year was a bit too early personally – but it skipped a year and the chance to be there is a little bit of a no-brainer, really.”
Welsh Fire open their campaign against Northern Superchargers at Headingley on July 24. But it was who she will be working with, from both playing and coaching perspectives, that helped Taylor choose from a number of offers that were on the table.
“A draw for me was also playing with [Australia captain] Meg Lanning, that’s always something that I’ve wanted to do for quite a few years,” Taylor said. “I’m fed up of fetching her balls rather than being at the non-striker’s end, so that will be nice.
“It’s a good opportunity career-wise, I can’t wait to work with Beth Mooney, she’s a great player. Coaching-wise it’s a good move for me to work with [Australia Women coach] Matthew Mott, who’s an amazing coach. I’m still very much looking at the coaching role in the future but this should be a little bit of fun.”
Whether Taylor takes the gloves at Welsh Fire is yet to be decided and she is typically self-effacing about the prospect.
“I did an hour’s keeping the other day, I didn’t move very well afterwards,” she added with a smile. “My keeping, I haven’t lost it. I barely moved my feet anyway so my hands just took over and they’ve still got it. I’ve got nothing to lose so I’m just going to try to enjoy every moment.
“Beth Mooney is a phenomenal keeper in her own right and doesn’t really get the chance with the Australians with [Alyssa] Healy there, so that’s still to be spoken about. If I get a run around in the field I’m not actually going to complain because I do enjoy it.”
Taylor reckons it would be “stupid not to play a few games before the tournament” with some matches for Sussex the most likely avenue for a competitive return.
Sussex is also where she sees her coaching career long-term, working with the likes of first-team captain Ben Brown as a wicketkeeping coach, but she also hopes it paves the way to a freelance coaching role “around the world” – an irony not lost on Taylor, who struggled being away from home for such long stretches as a player.
But this time it feels different. “For a long time, I didn’t really enjoy being the centre of attention, so the more success I had the more I struggled with that balance,” she said. “I’m all of a sudden taking complete attention away from me and I’m affecting someone.
“I was The Oval and watching Ben Brown keep, he took a wonderful stumping and you feel a sense of pride for all the hard work you put in with him and he’s put in so much hard work.
“I’d love to be known as a keeping coach in world cricket. I don’t think I will remove myself from this role for a very long time, I love working for Sussex, I love the coaching staff there and it’s home. The kids coming through the pathway, I’d be stupid to disappear. But a keeping coach who travels the world, that would be the ideal lifestyle for me, ironically.”
Taylor will be joined at Welsh Fire by Australian legspinner Georgia Wareham, replacing Jess Jonassen, who has withdrawn from the competition for personal reasons.
Mott said: “It is fantastic news that Sarah and Georgia will be part of our squad this summer. Sarah is one of the best cricketers England has ever produced. Her experience and ability to influence games will be vital as we look to establish some strong foundations in our first campaign.
“Georgia’s has been an integral part of the Australian side and she’ll bring a real x-factor to our squad.”
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo