The optimum moment to select a batsman is not when he thinks he deserves a place in the side; it’s when he’s completely irritated because he can’t quite believe he isn’t getting a game. This is probably the main difference between James Taylor now and a few years ago.
Taylor himself will probably say that he’s exactly the same player, which only goes to show how people tend to imagine that past versions of themselves had all the attitudes and accumulated wisdom of their current self. For once, we might be better able to judge a player from the outside.
Then and now
The Taylor selected for Test cricket in 2012 was skilful and ineffectual. He looked good at the crease, but he wasn’t even making runs in the second division. He’s gone from there to being someone who makes runs in the first division and who has also had to keep elevating his one-day performances to ever-greater heights simply to earn consideration.
Doubtless you’ll have read it elsewhere, but Taylor has the third-highest List-A average of all-time. (It’s also worth noting that another of England’s fringe one-day players, Gary Ballance, is seventh on that list, while Jonathan Trott is 22nd – one place below Phil Hughes.) Taylor has also made four million runs for the England Lions (you can have that stat for free).
Point is, Taylor’s not the same player and even if he doesn’t consciously know that, his subconscious must. It’s the difference between kneeling, eyes down, to graciously accept your Test cap from the selectors and angrily snatching a set of one-day pyjamas off them with a stroppy ‘about bloody time’. The first guy’s going to be overawed. The second guy’s far too busy grumbling to have time to think what international cricket might mean to him.
The second guy scores more runs.
Earning your place
There’s perhaps a lesson here relating to entitlement, because if lack of support can build an indomitable spirit, there is also a corollary of that. If you build up a particular player – it doesn’t matter who or why – and give him any kind of notion whatsoever that his selection is about anything other than performance, you inadvertently steal away his utter certainty that he belongs.
The player in question might retain a bullish, outwardly confident exterior, but that is perhaps less a manifestation of true confidence and more an attempt to fight back understandable doubts. One of the great things about cricket is that it has little time for people who merely talk a good game. You can’t hear uncertainty in a press conference, but you can easily read it on a scorecard.