Taylor touches new heights
Posted in England in West Indies 2009
England’s second-innings total of 51 at Sabina Park may have earned them an unwanted footnote in the annals of Test cricket, but Jerome Taylor wrote his name into the history books for rather more distinguished reasons.
The 24-year-old joined an illustrious list of Caribbean greats with a magnificent exhibition of fast bowling to hurry West Indies to a remarkable victory in the opening Test of the series.
Long since earmarked for greatness in his native Jamaica and beyond, Taylor’s phenomenal 5-11 off nine overs represented a huge step towards finally fulfilling his immense potential.
By ripping the heart out of the England batting on a pitch offering minimal assistance to the seamers, he also won instant hero status and removed any doubts over which of the current crop of West Indies bowlers is best equipped to lead the attack in years to come.
England have come in for a mountain of criticism after mustering their third lowest total in Test history, but any scorn directed their way should, by rights, be accompanied by equally effusive praise of Taylor’s performance.
Although, in the immediate aftermath of a remarkable victory, he claimed he had bowled better, he had kept it from the the rest of the world.
Figures of 5-50 and 4-45 against India on this ground in 2006 might be superior to his match return of 8-85 this week, but they came in a losing cause.
Taking 5-91 against Pakistan on an unresponsive surface in Multan later that year must rank among his greatest achievements, while his haul of 4-52, which helped set up West Indies’ victory over Sri Lanka at Port of Spain in early 2008, deserves special mention.
There was also the small matter of a hat-trick against Australia in Mumbai in the 2006 Champions Trophy.
But surely nothing rivals the brilliance of his new-ball spell either side of lunch on the fourth day in Kingston, when he married genuine pace, sideways movement and unremitting accuracy to devastating effect.
Bowling from close to the umpire and maintaining a wonderfully disciplined line on or around off stump, it is difficult to remember a delivery which did not test the batsmen, with the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen the most graphic example of England’s failure to cope.
In fairness to Pietersen, such a gem - a full-length ball which swung out late to defeat his defensive push and rip off stump out of the ground - would have done for most players on most days of the year.
Yet perhaps the finest illustration of Taylor’s emergence as a bowler of genuine quality was the dismissal of Matt Prior, who played forward to a superbly executed off-cutter, achieved courtesy of a late turn of the wrist, which nipped back through the gate to clip the top of off stump.
That delivery, more than any other, demonstrated Taylor’s cricketing nous, which, allied to his natural ability, leaves him well equipped to pick up the famed West Indies fast bowling mantle passed down via the likes of Hall, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Ambrose and Walsh.
Yet there is more to Taylor than his bowling. On West Indies’ tour of New Zealand before Christmas he hit an unexpected 106 - his maiden Test century made all the more surprising by the fact his previous highest score was 31.
That innings led John Dyson, the former Australia opener and current coach of West Indies, to identify Taylor as a genuine all-rounder, and while he did not contribute greatly with the bat in this match, his steady climb up the order to number eight reflects his growing value to an improving side.
Andrew Strauss denied that England underestimated Taylor and company, but, amid the wholesale coverage of Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff’s bumper Indian Premier League contracts, it is worth noting how little attention the rest of us paid to Taylor’s $150,000 signing.
The Kings Punjab XI will no doubt be congratulating themsleves on a smart piece of business given Taylor’s headline-grabbing feats 24 hours after the IPL auction, and England need only glance at a newspaper over the next week if they need any reminding of the damage he can do.