Sussex and England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor is one of the most important figures in women’s cricket. She has played a pivotal role in the success of the England team at exactly the point in history when the women’s game has truly taken its place on the world stage. At 29, she is in her prime, and should be enjoying her most productive years, both behind the stumps and with bat in hand.
Instead, she has been forced to withdraw from the forthcoming tour to the West Indies due to a recurrence of the stress-related illness that has dogged her career and made her achievements to date all the more remarkable.
Losing her safe place
In a heartfelt and open interview with The Times earlier this year, Taylor discussed the anxiety issues that led to her self-imposed exile from the game in 2016. She explained that these predominantly relate to matters that are external to cricket.
You might think that for someone suffering from anxiety, stepping out to play professional sport in front of thousands of spectators and a TV audience in the millions would be the stuff of nightmares. However, on the contrary, the ability to focus on the game was the one thing that brought her relief and cricket became her “safe place.”
The problem for Taylor is that she has difficulties in crowded locations like airports and hotels. Sometimes she finds it hard to leave the house, and she even had to miss the team’s celebratory visit to 10 Downing Street after they won last year’s Women’s World Cup.
Getting the right treatment
Taylor and the England management team agreed that a six-week tour of the West Indies, with the travel and media commitments that it entails, would be detrimental to her recovery. Coach Mark Robinson remarked: “It’s important we see mental health in a similar way to a player with a physical injury. You wouldn’t risk a player if you felt that playing them with an injury would increase the chances of them being out for a long time or the issue even becoming career-threatening.”
This is a refreshing attitude, and getting the support to treat the underlying symptoms, whether this is through counseling, medication or simple, natural serotonin boosters, might have extended the careers of some other England cricketers who suffered similar problems.
Two years ago, Monty Panesar was by far the most talented spin bowler in the country. But he was hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. His unpredictable behaviour off the field and his habit of either turning up late or not at all for training sessions earned him a reputation for eccentricity and ultimately cost him his place in the team.
But those close to him knew there was something wrong, and years later, he acknowledged that he needed help but did not know where to turn and was “frightened of medication.” It shows that two years can be a long time. Sarah Taylor is proving to be an example and a role model through more than just her sporting ability.