Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world. In 2011, “The Economist” magazine had published an article underlining the popularity of the game. Cricket has influenced cultures and cricketers are seen as demi-gods. However, that’s largely true only for the male cricketers. The glory that women have brought to the game has rarely got its due. Sudatta Mukherjee looks back at the career of Claire Taylor, one of England’s premier batswoman, who holds the record of highest individual score at the Mecca of cricket — Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Claire Taylor was born on September 25, 1975, in a sporting family in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. Claire’s father used to play rugby while her mother was a hockey player. As a school kid, she used to play softball but her first break as a cricketer came when she was 13. Claire played hockey for the most part of her teenage days and even represented the England Under-17 and Under-19 teams as a forward.
While studying mathematics at Oxford, Claire played both hockey and cricket. Along with Ian Sutcliffe, she played cricket in the men’s college team. She went on to play for Thames Valley in women’s County Championship. Her good run for Thames Valley earned her spot in the England team at various age groups. In September 1997, she scored an all-important 85 for England Under-21 against South Africa. Yet, she did not find a place in the 1997 Women’s World Cup squad.
A good run at the England Under-21 squad earned Claire a spot in the One-Day International (ODI) team against Australia. Australia toured England in 1998 and Claire was picked for the fourth ODI. However, she couldn’t make much used of her selection. She scored just one run from 14 balls, in a match which England lost by eight wickets.
She finished that season of County Championship with strong performances, scoring one century against West and 65 against Surrey. She also performed with the bat, scoring an unbeaten 45 runs for the England Under-21 team that season. Consequently, she regained her place in the national side which toured India in 1999. However, England struggled and Claire failed. According to a report in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Claire was one of the inexperienced players who “failed to seize their chance.”
After playing six matches, Claire finally scored her first half-century against New Zealand at Wellington. But England lost the match and the series. It was against South Africa in 2000, that fortunes changed for Claire. She scored an unbeaten 47 to help England win the match.
England’s luck till the 2000 Women’s World Cup was dismal. The team went on losing and exited from the tournament at the group stages. However, Claire scored 267 runs at an average of 66.75, ranking in the top 10 batswoman for the tournament. It was in the same tournament she struck her first century, scoring unbeaten 137 and sharing a partnership of 188 runs with Jane Cassar. This fifth-wicket partnership still remains a record in women’s ODI.
Turning into a full-time cricketer
Claire worked as an IT assistant manager at Procter & Gamble and was earning £38,000. But she quit her job to pursue her dreams of becoming one of the finest batswoman in the world after the 2000 World Cup. She moved in with her parents to preparing herself. Her income dropped to £7,000. England’s luck however did not change much. But Claire came in for praise. In the Two Tests against Australia, which the visitors won, Claire batted for over four hours and scored 137 runs, improving on her previous best Test score of 18.
A knee injury kept her out of the team for sometime but she came back in 2003, becoming the second leading run-scorer in the Super Fours — a competition held by the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), where they divide best 48 players into four teams. Claire was second ranked behind her England teammate Charlotte Edwards.
In 2003, she joined Canterburry Magicians in the State League, an ODI competition in New Zealand. At the end of the season, she ranked in the top-five batswoman’s list, scoring 252 runs at an average of 42.00. But for the England team continued perform below average. Against South Africa, she came back strong scoring back to back Test centuries and almost missing a double hundred in the first Test at Shenley. She scored 177 in the first Test and 131 in the second.
Claire returned to New Zealand and ended the season as the second most run-scorer in the State League. She scored 401 runs at an average of 44.55. Returning to the England side, she and Charlotte headed the batting tables.
In the 2004 Super Fours, she ranked once again behind Edwards as the top run-scorer in the tournament. She scored 351 runs at an average of 87.75.
Cricket wads undergoing change. From Test to ODI format, cricket now welcomed a new format — the Twenty20. In the first international T20 match played by either gender, she opened the records book, by top-scoring in the match. Even though England lost the match, Calire was praised for her batting.
The next few years remained good for her. In 2005, she played 20 ODIs, scored 807 runs at an average of 42.47.
Ahead of the 2005 World Cup, she scored 94 and 47 against South Africa and scored 166 runs against Gautend and North West.
However, England’s the first round matches were washed out due to rain. In the second match of the World Cup, Calire smashed 136 runs from 128 balls, sharing partnerships with Charlotte and Clare Connor.
She helped England qualify to the semi-final, by scoring an unbeaten 55 against South Africa and 46 against New Zealand.
Despite making the most of it, England lost the semi-final to the favourites Australia. Claire ended the World Cup campaign as the one of the top-three scorer. She scored 265 runs at an average of 53.00.
Returning back to work
Claire got demoralised after England lost the 2005 Women’s World Cup and she decided to return to work life. She joined as a violinist at the Reading Orchestra and in 2006 she joined the University of Reading as a performance management consultant.
In the following Women’s Ashes, Calire failed miserably in the first Test. In the second Ashes Test, she scored 43 in the first innings guiding England to a 158 runs lead. England won the Test to secure the Ashes. In the five-match ODI following the series, she was England’s leading run-scorer. She scored 325 runs at an average of 65.00. The Daily Telegraph praised her quality for “on-driving and cutting.”
India toured England in the August of 2006. The first ODI was played at the Mecca of cricket — Lord’s. Edwards got ran out early into the match. As a result of which Claire came to bat. Coming in at number three, Claire ransacked the Indian bowlers, scoring an unbeaten 156 from 151 balls, smashing nine fours. As soon as she reached 139 runs, she had already surpassed the highest individual ODI score by any cricketer at Lord’s. She surpassed the earlier highest of 138 by Sir Vivian Richards, which the great West Indian batsman scored in 1979. It was described as “[Claire] Taylor’s finest hour in an England shirt”.
After a good 2006-07 season, Claire was nominated for ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year award, alongside Australia’s Lisa Sthalekar and India’s Jhulan Goswami. Even though Jhulan won the award, Calire went on to score three centuries and three half-centuries during the voting phase.
The Twin wins
England was said to be the favourites in both the Women’s 50-over World Cup and the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup. Claire was seen as one of the key players for England. In the opening match against Sri Lanka, she scored her eight century, also setting up the win for her side. She followed that with an unbeaten 69 in the second match against India.
Even though she managed 21 runs in the final against New Zealand, she was one of the five England players to be named in the team of the tournament.
England won the final of the 2009 World Cup by four wickets. Claire was the leading run-scorer in the tournament, scoring 324 runs from seven matches at an average of 64.80.
Claire followed her top form in the T20 World Cup. She scored 199 runs from five matches at an average of 199.00. She scored an unbeaten 75 in the second match and remained 76 not out in the fourth match against Australia. In the final she scored a crucial unbeaten 39 runs to lead the team to the first T20 World Cup title. She was named the player of the series.
Retiring head held high
However, in the 2010 T20 World Cup, she failed to impact. She struggled as England were eliminated from the tournament.
She sustained a shoulder injury that year, but returned back to form by smashing 66 runs from 46 balls, guiding England to victory against India in a Quadrangular series in 2011. Followed by another series, Claire announced her retirement. Her coach Mark Lane was quoted as saying by the official England and Wales Cricket Board website, “She had some unfinished business and thought the NatWest Quadrangular Series was her chance of putting that right. Helping us win the Twenty20 and 50-over series was a magnificent way to sign off.”
She averaged more than 40 in both Test and ODI cricket and during her retirement. She scored 1030 runs from 15 Tests, 4101 runs from 126 ODIs and 615 runs from 27 Tests. Her Test average was 41.20 and ODI average was 40.20.
Speaking to ESPNCricinfo, her coach Lane said, “She wasn’t using her main assets, which are her strength and timing. She’s got a brilliant cricketing brain.”
Lane further said in ECB website, “I will miss her professionalism and her stubbornness at the crease, but I will miss her most as the unique character she is.”
In 2009, Claire became the first woman cricketer to be selected as Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year.
Wisden Almanack editor, Scyld Berry said, “There is no element of political correctness or publicity-seeking about her selection,” and her selection was “chosen on merit, for being pre-eminent in her form of the game.”
She won the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year in 2009. The same year she was named as the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Women’s Player of the Year. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) on the 2010 New Year Honours list. Claire was on top of the ICC batting rankings for both ODI and T20 during her career.
After her retirement, former Test cricketer Mike Selvey wrote in The Guardian that she was “perhaps the finest batsman the women’s game has seen.”
(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)