Sports Editor’s Blog: A Taylor-made career cut off in its prime

James Taylor in action for Nottinghamshire EMN-160413-121920002
James Taylor in action for Nottinghamshire EMN-160413-121920002
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When you work in the constantly shifting and evolving landscape of newspaper journalism, little really shocks you after a while.

Surprises come along reasonably often, but very rarely is a news story genuinely stunning.

In action for England Under 17s at Sleaford EMN-160414-111426002

In action for England Under 17s at Sleaford EMN-160414-111426002

But Tuesday morning’s bolt-from-the-blue announcement of James Taylor’s retirement from professional cricket, aged just 26, ticked this normally empty box.

As a journalist you must train yourself not to be emotionally affected by stories, no matter how difficult or upsetting the subject matter.

This may explain the above-average levels of cynicism among seasoned hacks exposed to this odd environment for longer than is healthy.

But after news broke and then spiralled across social media of Taylor’s serious heart condition, it became difficult to focus on the usual digest of Melton sport.

Leicestershire and England Lions batsman James Taylor PHOTO: Neville Chadwick Photography EMN-160414-111414002

Leicestershire and England Lions batsman James Taylor PHOTO: Neville Chadwick Photography EMN-160414-111414002

Tales of careers cut short by injury, illness and even death are always heart-rending.

The timing of Taylor’s was particularly so, coming just three days into the new domestic season when most cricketers feel at their most vibrant and alive.

And what a season awaited. Having earned the captaincy of Nottinghamshire’s limited overs side in recent seasons, he handed the honour back in anticipation of regular international cricket this summer.

His place in the Test side was finally established ending seasons of bafflement among fans at his continued omission from England’s middle order.

At least, in the mildest of consolations, Taylor can reflect that he packed in as much as possible into his truncated career.

When I first met Steve Taylor in the Melton Times reception a decade ago, armed with clippings about his young son’s latest batting feats, I’d never heard of him.

Among the many achievements retold was a stunning match-winning century for Shrewsbury School in the English Schools Under 15s final at Trent Bridge.

Call-ups to England age group sides further pricked the attention. While of little interest elsewhere, these relative baby steps are gold dust for a local paper.

As he excelled in each of these junior sides, as well as top schoolboy cricket, a big untold story seemed to be dawning.

While it’s easy to scoff at the weekly press, the chance to get in on the ground floor of great career journeys - when no-one else really cares - is hugely rewarding.

And not just because they provide a regular source of good copy and the opportunity to wheel out the perfect headline, “Taylor made for England’.

Emotional detachment can go hang - local pride soon has you cheering them on through their next big test and new landmark.

I’ve been lucky enough to follow a few stellar rises in my time at the helm here, but Taylor - the second big sports story to come out of the pretty little village of Burrough-on-the-Hill - was one of the more interesting.

Working his way into senior cricket via Leicestershire he quickly earned player awards galore and Twenty 20 Cup honours.

Then came regular captaincy of the England Lions, a senior England debut at 21 and a move to county powerhouses Nottinghamshire.

Whichever level Taylor moved up to he quickly seemed able to adapt and stand out. Impressive when you’re only 5ft 6ins on tiptoes.

A former England cricketer once told me he thought Taylor was too short for international cricket, particularly the Test arena.

It was a view widely shared among those in the know, I’m sure.

But perhaps they underestimated his greatest strength: his adaptability, honed by an unstinting work ethic, and a determination to wring out every available ounce of ability.

Watching Taylor at the crease was not always pretty, but more often than not he found a way to compile big runs.

Whether through impressive strokeplay or, when called for, expert nurdling, he got the job done.

Such characteristics employed at the crease, will be more vital than ever as he faces a much-altered life beyond the boundary rope.

But who would bet against him? Prepare to be stunned some more.