27.6.16

Standing Out (29th August 2012)

It's difficult to convey just how good the century which Kevin Pietersen made for Surrey against Somerset at Taunton, at the end of August 2012, was. He'd been dropped from the England side after the controversy over him sending text messages to South African players, and he was playing at a level below where he should have been. The result was just about the greatest example of easy dominance (with the possible exceptions of Lara at Trent Bridge in 1995 or a fifty at Taunton by Darren Lehmann in 2000) that I've ever witnessed. Like both other occasions you knew that you were witnessing genius at work.

In his classic football supporter's memoir Fever Pitch, published exactly twenty years ago, Nick Hornby wrote about a young player who first represented Arsenal in the mid-1980s named Gus Caesar. Gus Caesar had a promising start to his career at the club before finding that, at the highest level of the game below international football, he couldn't cut it.

The point Hornby was making was about the way in which football has a series of levels, of standards. Local park, county league, regional semi-professional league, Vauxhall Conference (as it was then), Football League (as it was then). Now, at the head of everything - and it has been so for exactly the same twenty years - is the FA Premier League. At each and every level there will be players who have been outstanding at the level below, but who, when they step up to the next, are found wanting. At the very top - in the modern football world this is where Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo reside - are the players who have never really been found wanting. They are the best of the best of the best.

Cricket is the same. At the level of cricket which I've played for the last couple of decades - friendly matches between village sides in England's west country - a player capable of playing in the local premier league will stand out. Go and watch a match in that premier league and a player who represents the local minor county, or who once was among the best teenagers in the country, will stand out. Go and watch that minor county and a player who has played a lot in the County Championship will - if he is not a physical or psychological wreck (long cricket careers can do that to you) - stand out. Go and watch a County Championship match and someone who has played in 88 Test matches and scored 21 centuries, including some of the most brilliant innings played by an England batsman in the modern era, well, he will stand out.

So it was with Kevin Pietersen yesterday. So much has been written over the past few weeks, so many opinions offered, about Pietersen's undeniably complex psychology, that it has been possible to forget, or at least briefly overlook, the fact that he is, when all has been said, a batsman of the purest genius.

And, if the eleven players in Somerset's side, or his Surrey team-mates, or the thousand or so in the Taunton crowd, were in any danger of forgetting how good Pietersen was - and some would never before have seen evidence of his ability at first-hand - they will not do so for a very long time.

In many ways Pietersen's century seemed understated, largely on account of the ease and assurance with which it was made. Such was the superiority of Pietersen over a useful Somerset attack that the need for extreme violence or self-preservation was obviated. It was bloodless.

In the early stages of his innings Pietersen occasionally played and missed at seaming deliveries from the eternally fiery Steven Kirby and his erstwhile England colleague Sajid Mahmood, but, when he had settled, it was simply a question of how often he felt like hitting the ball for four or six. Far worse players than Peter Trego - a locally-raised all-rounder having his best season with the ball - have played for England. Pietersen, when he desired an acceleration in the tempo of his side's innings after lunch, danced down the pitch and flicked Trego to the leg-side boundary with the disdainful ease of a teenage elder brother humiliating a younger sibling. And then, when, as night follows day, Trego dropped the ball short, Pietersen pulled him for a flat six with the venom of a cornered snake.

The young Irish slow left-armer George Dockrell is a spin bowler of huge potential. Until yesterday he had found that his easy, grooved action and fine control of pace and spin were enough to see him through against some of the better batting sides in the first division of the Championship. Against Pietersen, receiving little help from the surface, he found that he could do nothing to prevent himself being milked for run after run, and then, when Pietersen felt it was necessary, he was hit out of the ground into the River Tone. Although he took three wickets, the lasting value of the day will be as a lesson in what players from another realm can do. One day - perhaps with a Test career behind him - he will look back on it with wryness and appreciation of its value.

Pietersen's celebrations were also understated. There was none of the leaping and fist-pumping which always accompany his international milestones. Here there was simply a raised bat, first to the Surrey dressing room and then to all the ground's corners. There were friendly conversations with Alfonso Thomas and, later in the day, with all the scoreboard damage done, with Mahmood. This, somewhat incongrously, was Pietersen attempting to play the part of the humble everyman. Something about his body language suggested contrition, and even, perhaps, a longing for forgiveness.

The saga of the last few weeks is far from over - it will probably take another twist within the hour - and the sense is that, for all Pietersen's gifts, things will always happen around him which people will not understand or like.

Many words have been expended on Kevin Pietersen and many more will be used before his career is done.

You can say what you like about Kevin Pietersen.

Just don't ever say he can't bat.

25.6.16

Runs and Trust (8th January 2012)

A piece about Michael Clarke, from early 2012. There was a time when everyone had an opinion about Clarke, many of which didn't seem to make much sense to me. My opinion was that he was a bloody classic batsman.

Michael Clarke could always bat.

He could bat when he came to England with the Australian Under-19 side in 1999. He could bat when he made his Test debut in India in 2004. He could bat when he took over the captaincy of his country a year ago and he can bat now. If you wanted, you could even take his Sydney epic as evidence that he can bat. But why would you need to do that when he has proved his worth, his mettle, and his skill many times before?

Australia remains a country with a deep, knowing, vital relationship with cricket. Not as visible, or as showy, or as brash as India’s, but important nonetheless. In Australia, as in India, one of the leitmotifs of the game’s growth was the way in which it enabled a young country to show its nascent capabilities to its former colonial masters. Because of this, and because it’s just a great game, cricket remains a central part of Australia’s cultural DNA.

And Australia produces great cricketers. Among batsmen there is Trumper, there is Ponsford, and, of course, there is Bradman. There is Archie Jackson. There is Greg Chappell and Border and Ponting. There are the Waugh twins. Well, Steve, certainly. Perhaps there is Hayden. At a stretch you could possibly even consider Mike Hussey. And if you can consider Mike Hussey you can certainly consider Michael Clarke.

With the exception of Greg Chappell - a man who some of us feel doesn’t quite receive his due either - all Australia’s post-war greats have been simple, unembellished players and men, their personalities as reflective of the characteristic Australian capacity for bluntness and distaste for pretension as the way they go about building an innings.

Clarke is perceived to be different. He has tattoos, has dated models. As Mike Selvey put it so well this past week, he is ‘a smooth-skinned, bright-eyed, baby-faced fellow from the metrosexual generation’. Someone, perhaps, a little out of step with most Australians’ perceptions of themselves and how an Australian man - and especially its most senior sportsman - is supposed to be.

All this is true, but it doesn’t stop you being surprised by the way in which he has often appeared to be held in such lukewarm regard by his compatriots. For Clarke is as good, and mature, and passionate a batsman as it is possible to find on the contemporary world stage.

In traditional Australian style his batting is without artifice. Early in an innings he will be watchful, maintaining his shape, leaving when necessary, working the ball around. Once set he will look to attack, especially against spin, his decisive footwork and range of shot keeping him one step ahead of the bowler. There is little that stands out or makes him unusual, apart from the smooth edges of his technique and his calling, which is as loud and definitive and easily identifiable as you will ever hear, repeatedly reminding the watcher of his assertive commitment to the task at hand. In front of a microphone he is balanced and jauntily articulate. His love for the game, the way it lives inside him, is obvious and unaffected.

All the truly great players who made Australian cricket what it was in the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first were born well before Clarke: the Waughs in ‘65, Warne in ‘69, McGrath in ‘70, Gilchrist in ‘71, Ponting in ‘74. With the exception of Ponting all have left the stage. Now is a time of adaptation and adjustment such as Australia hasn’t known for a quarter-century

Clarke, born in 1981, is comfortably the best Australian batsman of his generation, and he, as captain, will be his country’s standard-bearer as the coming years unfold and a different, younger side seeks to regain its place at the top of the world game.

All the signs are that Clarke, orthodox but adaptable, and a more instinctively perceptive captain than his predecessor, is the right man to do this. What is more, it increasingly appears as though the Australian public know this to be so. It may, strangely, have taken 329 undefeated runs at the cradle of the Australian game to convince them, when 151 at Newlands, or 136 at Lord’s, or many other past innings, should have done just as well.

This time last year, with Ponting deposed and Australia humiliated by their oldest foe, things were very different. Clarke was captain, but he neither had runs nor trust. Now he has both.

As someone once said, form is temporary but class is permanent.

Michael Clarke could always, always, bat.

24.6.16

Pausing to Remember (5th October 2011)

This, written just after the death of Graham Dilley, is a piece I'm very proud of.

For all his fine if injury-ravaged career, for people of a certain age - and I was a boy in front of a TV set on that day - Graham Dilley will always be steadying himself under a catch on the Headingley boundary on 21st July 1981.

Cricket is a game of pauses. Although there is always activity, there is the sense of a pause between each and every delivery. The bowler walks back to his mark, the batsman regroups and prepares for the next ball. Fielders pause too, their thoughts momentarily elsewhere.

The most noticeable, most pregnant pause of all, is the pause between a skied catch leaving the bat and it falling into the hands of a fielder who may or may not hang on to it. For those moments, everything is uncertain. Sessions, innings, games, entire series have been turned by dropped catches. The batsman knows it, the bowler knows it, the crowd know it and the fielder sure as hell knows it.

And when old cricketers die, people who saw them play - and especially so if they did so in childhood or adolescence, or they were part of a team who did something truly special - pause to remember them.

Graham Dilley was never famed as a fielder. Like many a quick bowler from the days before diving, and sliding, and all-round fitness became compulsory, and before the magnificent Jimmy Anderson showed what was possible, he just did his bit.

What he did best, and really well when everything clicked, was bowl. With his mood right and his fragile confidence bolstered, often by some powerful runs, he could be distinctly quick, with swing and sharp bounce as additional and potent extras. Like many an England player from the bad old days he never came close to fulfilling his potential, but he was admired at Canterbury, and at Worcester, and remembered with affection by all who lived through and witnessed the 1981 Headingley Test. Botham and Willis took the glory but neither of them could have done what they did without the help of Graham Roy Dilley.

A thirty year-old memory has the young Dilley, with a visorless helmet perched unsteadily on top of his blond mane, creaming Lillee and Alderman and Lawson through the covers on a grey Leeds afternoon and sharing a joke with Botham as Australia wilted and the course of history changed.

For me, though, the strongest image of all sees him the following day, steadying himself on the long-leg boundary as Rod Marsh's uncontrolled hook shot to a Willis bouncer directs the ball his way. A brief glance to check his distance from the rope, hands cupped upward, body braced to absorb the ball's impact.

Everything pauses.

Then he catches it.

He staggers back, but manages to steady himself. Marsh is out, Australia are 74 for 7 and defeat is on the cards.

He leans back and throws the ball high, high into the Yorkshire air.

23.6.16

A Moment in (Indian) Time (31st July 2011)

This was a slightly experimental piece about a captivating passage of post-lunch cricket at Lord's in the summer of 2011. In many ways it seems recent, but, in terms of personnel, this is illusory. We were then still firmly in the age of Tendulkar (although the writing was on the wall), of Dravid and of Chris Tremlett.

The idea was to try to capture the atmosphere of a passage of Test cricket - in some ways a typical passage of Test cricket - during which, although little of major importance appeared to be happening, everything that was happening was suffused with history and expectation. It also shows how, with its duration, its measured rhythm and its evolution of dramatic tension, no game lends itself better to the observation and deconstruction of details (Tendulkar and Dravid touching gloves or Tremlett grunting) than long-form cricket.


Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, Saturday 23rd July 2011, 1.36 p.m. (British Summer Time).

As the lunch interval draws to a close the atmosphere in the Long Room bubbles with conversation, heavy footsteps and lightly suppressed excitement. The rear of the room, where the players walk from either end on their way from the dressing rooms to the field, is segregated with a rope to prevent anyone getting too close to the combatants. Here people are required to know their place.

From the far end of the room the England team emerges, following the umpires, Asad Rauf and Billy Bowden, onto the field. Clapping, closely followed by cheers, echoes around the room, but it remains unacknowledged, if not unappreciated. The England players, most of whom are wearing dark glasses, stare straight ahead. It is a grey afternoon and a little cool for July, but, as is customary during Lord’s Tests, the crowd has eaten and drunk well. Bonhomie hangs in the air like the clouds above the ground, but the players of both sides are serious. They are at work.

At the opposite end of the room the applause from the stairs filters in. The two Indian batsmen are on their way down. They enter the room with a similar air of preoccupation, although there are discernible differences in their demeanour.

First there is Rahul Dravid. A native of the city of Bangalore in southern India, he has played in 154 Test matches and has scored more than twelve thousand runs. In this innings he has just fifteen to his name. Before lunch he was settling in at the crease, but now he needs to do so again. He is a slim, serious man with distant eyes which carry the memories of thousands of hours at the crease. On the dusty, unforgiving grounds of his homeland, on the palm-fringed greens of the West Indian islands and of Sri Lanka, on the fast tracks of Australia, where players’ reflexes are tested to their very limits. This, batting, is what he does.

Following a few steps behind is Sachin Tendulkar. He has spent the majority of his life playing cricket for a living and has played in more Test matches, with more runs and centuries, than anyone else in the history of cricket. He is a small, stocky man, carrying a little surplus weight. An infant prodigy on the edge of middle age. His body language is more private, less optimistic, than Dravid’s. It is possible that he is already feeling the effects of the virus which will keep him away from the ground on the following day, but it is more likely that his hunched shoulders and downward gaze simply reflect the fact that he is his country’s most famous man and he has spent much of his life away from the cricket field trying to make himself anonymous. As usual the ground should bring him a sense of sanctuary and freedom, although he will need runs to feel fully at ease. At the moment he has made just ten, and he is playing at a ground where, unusually, he has never known success.

James Anderson, with the Lord’s pavilion behind him, takes the ball. Tendulkar is facing, and he guides the first ball between the slips and gully for four. The stroke is controlled but there is still a slight air of uneasiness about him. He is searching for the warm embrace of form and it is elusive. Off the fourth ball of the over Tendulkar strokes the ball through the leg side for another four. It is an easy shot for a player of his ability, but it is played with a style and timing which causes the crowd’s collective pulse rate to briefly quicken. While the majority of the crowd are supporting England, many of them would love to see Tendulkar make his one hundredth century in international cricket, and their hopes, seduced by weeks of media coverage, are hostage to the progress of his innings. In the next over, bowled from the Nursery End by Chris Tremlett, Tendulkar hits the ball on the up through the covers for four. The feeling of impermanence begins to fade a little.

At the other end Dravid is the epitome of polished control. His stance is compact, his eyes level, his strokeplay measured and decisive. He picks up a boundary off Tremlett and then three in an over off Anderson.

The players meet in the middle of the pitch at the end of each over. Dravid is expressive and relatively animated, his raised arm describing the path of the swinging ball. Tendulkar is still restrained, absorbing what his partner has to say. These men have batted together through many of the world’s summers, and, as in any relationship which has lasted for years, there are times when no words are necessary. In the modern vogue they touch gloves as they part. When they began batting together some fifteen years ago, batsmen didn’t do this, but Dravid and Tendulkar have not gained their immense reputations by being unable to embrace the game’s changing conventions.

Graeme Swann replaces Anderson at the Pavilion End. His first over is steady, tight, conceding just a single to Dravid. At the other end Tremlett is starting to develop an aggressive rhythm, pounding his feet into the dry turf and grunting as he delivers the ball. Tendulkar remains a little circumspect and tentative, and Dravid paints an emphatic contrast with his partner when he elegantly strokes Swann through the covers for four in his second over to raise his score to 42.

Strauss rings the changes once more, bringing Stuart Broad on to replace Tremlett. Tendulkar, now on 34, is able to leave two of the over’s first three deliveries, but the fourth is straighter and slightly full, drawing him into a firm-footed drive. The ball barely swings, but it holds its own and takes the edge of Tendulkar’s bat. Graeme Swann drops to one knee and takes a low catch at second slip with some ease.

As the England players celebrate, Tendulkar returns slowly to the pavilion. His head is held high, but this is partly because he spends the early stages of his walk looking to the heavens, regretting his shot. It is uncommon for Tendulkar to be defeated by a bowler but it has happened here and his highest score at Lord’s remains a meagre 37. As he returns to the pavilion he receives his second standing ovation of the day. The crowd know that there is a possibility that he will never again bat at Lord’s in a Test match, although it seems more probable that he will have a second opportunity in this game.

The forty-eight minutes between the end of the lunch interval and Tendulkar’s dismissal has been an interlude, a departure from reality. The conjunction at the wicket of two great players whose careers are nearer to their conclusion than their commencement, but who are still very far from batting from memory.

After Tendulkar has gone, and the applause has died down, India bat for most of the rest of the day without notable fluency or permanence. Dravid, though, is an exception to this. Before the day’s end he reaches his thirty-third Test century, and, when the Indian innings closes on 286 with him undefeated on 103, he receives his own standing ovation.

It is something that he will remember for the rest of his life.

20.6.16

Playing Long (6th April 2010)

Players I never saw play die regularly - Tom Graveney last year was the most recent - and when they do, my mind always turns to the mythology that surrounds them and their roles in the game's history. Strangely, Bedser wasn't somebody I thought about that much before or since, but there was just something which got into my head at the time and prompted me to write this. It's a short piece that I always liked a lot and still do.

I never saw Sir Alec Bedser bowl. He retired from first-class cricket more than five years before I was born, and, by then, his outstanding Test career was a distant memory. I only remember him as a somewhat curmudgeonly chairman of the England selectors, making it known after Ian Botham resigned the England captaincy in the early summer of 1981 that he would have been sacked anyway, and unwittingly laying the ground for some of the most inspirational individual performances in Test history.

But his passing matters to me because of what it says about what English cricket was and what it has lost. Bedser was a product of an era before limited-over cricket - even of the 65, 60 or 55 over variety, let alone 20 - had been introduced to the professional game. The only way to play was to play long, three or five days, engaging the physique and the brain against the best the opposition had to offer. And the mature Bedser was a key player both in the greatest domestic team English cricket has known and in the England side which came closest to dominating the cricket world in the way we have since seen other teams - from the Caribbean and from Australia - do.

Bedser embodied, as few alive still can, an era when the game was far more central to the English way of life than it is now, or ever will be again. A time when England produced truly great cricketers, and truly great teams.

Of course, much of the change which cricket has gone through, and is still undergoing, has, for all its artifice and embellishment, been vital in widening the game's appeal. A modern sport cannot exist forever in the sepia-tinged glow of elderly men's memories.

But they'll do for now.

19.6.16

Lara at the Last (22nd April 2007)

Early this year it dawned on me that at the start of July I will have been blogging for ten years. Over the next couple of weeks, running up to the anniversary on Friday 1st July, I'm going to repost ten of my favourite pieces from two half decades of writing about cricket on the Web. I also hope to post some reflections on how the 'blogosphere' has changed since 2006, which will probably, inevitably, end with me wondering if it still exists, or is simply diminished by the passage of time and the inexorable evolution of the digital world.

But that's for the future. The piece below was written the day after Brian Lara's career ended during the 2007 World Cup. As with all retirements it felt like the end of an era, probably because it was. Everyone has their favourites, and, when it came to batting, he was mine. Thanks chiefly to the priceless memory of being up in the old Radcliffe Road End stand at Trent Bridge when he made his 145 against England in 1995, I always regarded him as the greatest genius I ever saw hold a bat.

Another feature of this piece is that I end it by quoting from Green Fading into Blue, a collection of the writings of my favourite cricket writer of the old school, Alan Ross, which came out in 1999. I can't remember precisely what was going through my head at the time, but I know that the title of the book somehow gave rise to the name of this blog. I think it was a kind of tribute, and I thought it sounded good.

Anyway, Brian Lara.


Long day, yesterday.

For one thing England and the West Indies fought each other to a standstill in the World Cup's best game. The fact that it was a contest between two of the competition's most uneasy and mediocre teams didn't matter as we at last had a match which encapsulated everything which people hoped for from the West Indies' first World Cup but which it has almost completely failed to deliver - noise, atmosphere, colour, vibrancy, brilliant strokeplay from Gayle, Samuels, Vaughan and Pietersen, passionate athleticism in the field from Collingwod and Bravo, further obvious signs of promise from Ravi Bopara.

And then there was Brian Lara. Run out for a staccato 18 in a mix-up with Samuels, unable in the end to stem the tide of England's run-chase, and finally gone for good from cricket in a welter of flash bulbs, autographs and snatched handshakes.

When I woke up on Friday morning and heard that Lara was going to retire I was surprised but also saddened. At the very first it was selfish personal disappointment as I was looking forward to seeing him bat in person for the last time at Lord's in May, but later it evolved into a wider awareness that cricket currently stands at one of those tipping points in its history when a range of pivotal figures slip from the international stage and we're left to wonder who will take their places. In the past few months Warne, Lara, Langer and Woolmer have gone, McGrath has one or two games left and even Sachin's once unimpeachable seat at the head of the game's top table looks vulnerable.

I've written before about how I was always a Lara man. It started with the 375, which I followed on the radio as I didn't have Sky then, went on through the 501, his destruction of Australia in an ODI at the Queen's Park Oval in March 1995, then to Trent Bridge that August and just about the greatest work of genius I ever saw in person. And on to the peerless 1999 series: 213 at Sabina and his finest hour of many, the undefeated 153 in Bridgetown that saw his side to the narrowest of victories. And on to Antigua again, to the world records, to a walk-on part in his team's 418 in the final innings against Australia in 2003, and the 400 not out against England in 2004. And on into retirement.

The essence of Lara can be hard to capture in words, but the inimitable Alan Ross, in Green Fading Into Blue, did better than most:

'He keeps very still at the wicket and is stillness personified. Alert as a gundog, scenting something, giving nothing away. Leaning on his bat between overs he may be dreaming, perhaps doing mental arithmetic.

The bowler approaches and now everything works together in harmony, the bat an extension of the arms, the legs and feet as in the first steps of a dance, abruptly halted.

In defence he is classically correct, body and head aligned, something of the martial arts in his position, pose held just long enough to be admired.

Runs appear to flow from him rather than he make them. He is anticipatory, a sixth sense making him ready, even before the bowler lets go. He strokes not hurts, times, caresses, even in moments of aggression melodious.'

And Rahul Bhattacharya does pretty well here.

I'm not going to say that things will never be the same again as it's the oldest cliche in the book and they probably will be, one day.

But who will take his place?

17.4.16

Thousands of Runs Unscored

James Taylor is a batsman. That is what he does. Or, as of last Tuesday, that's what he did. Batting, something he has done since he was little - well, he's always been little, but you know what I mean - has gone, in the beat of a defective heart, from being both what he does best and the source of his income, to something he used to do but which he cannot, for circumstances beyond his control, do any more.

This is a profound source of sadness. To Taylor, of course, and to his family and friends, but also to many cricket followers, most of whom have never met him.

Cricket is like that.

In modern professional rugby union, players are forced to retire before their time with increasing frequency. It happens so often that it barely causes comment, still less any great outpouring of sentiment or regret. It happens in football too. Always has done. Time and the game move on with barely a backward glance.

Cricket is different. Players sometimes die young, but comparatively few have to retire early. The tragic deaths of Ben Hollioake and Philip Hughes, and the circumstances surrounding them, are etched on memories throughout the world; young lives abruptly ended, careers curtailed with thousands of runs unscored, wickets not taken, hours in the field denied.

Although losing the ability to do the thing that you are best at is awful, it is not as bad as dying. Hopefully Taylor has a long and fulfilling, if sadly compromised, life ahead of him. But he will always be susceptible to thoughts - early on spring and summer mornings, and as the evening shadows lengthen on cricket grounds - of what was and what could have been. Memories of Shrewsbury School, of early games at Grace Road, of taking that double hundred off Surrey that everyone talks about, of digging in amid the chaos caused by Pietersen's genius at Headingley, and of batting long for the Lions in the cloying heat of Dambulla. Thoughts of the innings at Manchester and Sharjah and Durban, and the magical short leg catches at the Wanderers, and what they might have led to in the era of Bayliss and Farbrace.

Amid the doubts and quandaries which never seem to go away - over spin bowlers and opening batsmen and levels of public engagement - these are times of renewal and optimism for the England team. They are finally, after longer than many people have been alive, getting to grips with one-day cricket, and, in Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, they have three cricketers under the age of 26, all of whom who, in their own ways, are world-class.

Taylor may never have quite made it into that category, but there was enough about him, from the way in which he instantly adapted to county cricket, to the way he took the knocks and the rejections and the redundant jibes about his stature, and came back stronger, to suggest that he could have had a long and successful career in international cricket. The summer of 2016 may have decided which way his career would go. Instead, it has ended before the summer has even begun.

There are few things better than being young and being good enough at a sport to make a lucrative career out of it. Most of us would settle simply for being able to play a single off-drive or pull like James Taylor, let alone hit the ball clean out of Headingley as he once did, or manage a run chase as he could. We wouldn't need to be paid to do so. Just doing those things would be enough to take our lives to a higher plane. But, in an instant, Taylor has been forced to leave that world behind and retreat to the foothills of life which the rest of us occupy. Nothing will ever quite feel as good again.

There is a salient lesson in life's unpredictability there, but, while most of us can only dream of having been a contender, James Taylor will always know that he was.

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