Robinson’s charges are now hitting the right notes

With less than a month to go until the World Cup, Alison Mitchell speaks to Mark Robinson on the returning Sarah Taylor

The recall of Sarah Taylor to England Women’s World Cup squad was met with unconditional warmth this week, following the 28-year-old’s break from the game to deal with anxiety. It was noticeable, however, that a number of conditional clauses peppered the sentences of Head Coach Mark Robinson when he spoke about the return of the double World Cup-winning wicket keeper-bat.

Taylor made herself available for World Cup selection after joining the England squad at their Winter training camp in Abu Dhabi last month – a hugely positive move. Robinson though, sensitive as he is to the ups and downs of mental health, struck a note of caution as to the role she may yet play in the tournament starting June 24.

“We first of all spoke to Sarah to see where she felt she was, and she felt confident enough to put herself forward for selection. We checked where she was with her mental health, with her support, and we checked where she was physically, because obviously she’s had time out of the game. Everybody was confident enough that if she keeps making the strides and progression, she could get back to taking a full part in the tournament that is coming up.”

If and could. Two little words that indicate how complicated anxiety can be. The process of managing herself will be ongoing for Taylor. In the UAE, she pulled on an England shirt for the first time in over a year and made 26 not out in a friendly fixture against Ireland. At the time, she tweeted, “I can’t thank the staff enough for helping me achieve more than I hoped for this tour. I didn’t come here looking to play any games and my expectations were low. There have been some bumps along the way… I honestly didn’t know if this would ever happen again, but I had more pride this time than when I debuted back in 2006.”

Taylor couldn’t have a better coach in charge of England at the moment than Robinson. He is finely tuned in to mental health issues having been Cricket Manager at Sussex when Mike Yardy returned home from the 2011 World Cup suffering from depression. He speaks in measured, sensible tones about what Taylor has already achieved, but also about the ongoing process that lies ahead.

“Sarah’s done really well both in practice and in the games we’ve played. What’s worked really well with Sarah – and I learnt this with Michael Yardy as well – is that it’s a daily approach. It’s about where you are today and what you need to do today, doing that, then making the next plan for the next day. If you do that, you make the best progress.”

“So for Sarah going to Abu Dhabi, the challenge was the big public space at the airport – would she be able to handle that? Would she be able to get on the plane? Would she handle the 41 degrees heat? Then her first game back. She keeps ticking her boxes and conquering her little challenges. What we do know, is if we get her back, we have a very good player who has good experience. She has the ability to influence or win games by herself.”

Only two England players have scored more ODI runs in history than Taylor. Most recently, she took a further step towards her goal of playing in her third World Cup by turning out for Sussex against Kent in the Royal London One Day Cup. She scored 61 and also kept wicket.

“Keeping wicket for 50 overs and batting for 40 overs – that is a tick physically, mentally, as well as cricket-wise,” said Robinson. “Although there was probably never really any issue around her cricket skills.

“What we can’t do for any player is take their mental health for granted. What we do know, is if her mental health is good, and her physical health is good, she should be good. And it’s the same for any of us – we can all do our jobs a lot better when we’re in a good mental place and a good physical place.”

“The key bit will be to keep doing the same things. We’ve talked at the end of every day and we’ve planned the next day. She’s aware of what’s going to happen, what choices she has, then she makes her choices, and that’s worked really well. So I don’t see that changing.”

With the inevitable attention surrounding the return of such a highly valued player, Robinson will be taking pains to ensure that the World Cup doesn’t become all about Taylor.

“We’ve got 14 other players who will feel their own stresses and pressure, so it’s a case of making sure that most things are in place, not just for Sarah Taylor but for all the players so that their individual needs and requirements are all met.”

Taylor is not the only player named in the squad subject to fitness. Captain Heather Knight is continuing to recover from a stress fracture of the metatarsal in her left foot. Like Taylor, she is confident she will make the opening game on June 24 against India – a game which has already sold out.

England will use their warm-up matches to determine their preferred World Cup batting order. Taylor batted at three for Sussex against Kent, and has had much success there for England. However, with both Heather Knight and Nat Sciver making up a strong middle-order, England will not be short of options, should they prefer to bat Taylor elsewhere in the top five.

Before England embark on their official practice games, they play one ‘competitive’ warm-up match amongst themselves, followed by games against West Indies women, India women, then Sussex Under-17 boys. Like many England women’s coaches before him, Robinson is a fan of playing boys age-group teams in order to provide a different type of challenge for his players.

“Part of sport is problem solving and working out how to play on a certain wicket against a certain team on a given day,” he says.

Talk of wickets brings us to a point that Robinson cannot stress strongly enough: the need for fresh pitches. This, as much as ticket sales, media coverage and marketing (and the weather) will be crucial to the success of the tournament.

“In the women’s game, the quality of the wickets is more important than the men’s, because of the difference in strength and power etc. You need the ability for the ball to come on to allow these outstanding talents to express themselves. Used wickets can kill us.

For our home series in the last couple of years we’ve had fresh wickets in Taunton, Bristol, Worcester and Leicester. They did us proud.”

There is a big push to make women’s cricket history by selling out the Final at Lord’s on Sunday, July 23. By the beginning of this week, 11,846 tickets had already been bought in advance. Silver priced seats cost £20 for adults, £5 for under-16s, and £10 for students. Gold priced seats £30 for adults and £5 for the under-16s (buy here)

If England make it to the final, and have Sarah Taylor in their team, there will be a personal cause to celebrate, regardless of who takes home the trophy.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, May 26 2017

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