This was to have been James Taylor’s year, the year in which, following on from a successful winter, he would finally establish himself as a fixture in a full strength England side. Goodness knows, he had achieved enough in his career to date, Young Cricketer of the Year, Captain of the England Lions, Captain of an England ODI side and, while with Leicester, sharing in three record partnerships. Several double centuries proved his staying power; his average in 50-over cricket, the fourth highest in the game, proved he could "get on with it", yet those who had witnessed the prodigious feats of his Shrewsbury days would never be satisfied until the wider public came to see him as the master cricketer that he was. He had never failed the challenges confronting him thus far and his supporters will always believe that, given the chance, he would have taken his place in the Hall of Fame.
But it was not to be. The devastating news of his serious heart condition and consequent retirement has shocked the cricketing world, nowhere more than here at Shrewsbury. That it should happen to the ebullient, hyper-active, workaholic Jimmy (as he has always been known in Salopian circles) made it all the more difficult take on board. The response in the local and national press has been overwhelming, testimony to the affection and admiration in which he is held.
So why the wait for a place at the top table? The answer has to be his height, which for too long dominated and distorted the public - and selectorial - perception of a superb athlete. It was to be years before a reference to Jimmy would appear without the obligatory adjective “diminutive”. Too much attention was paid to his stature, too little to what this short man was achieving. Most frustrating of all was the presumption that lack of inches meant lack of strength.
Let me recall a favourite image of Jimmy on the field, not in cricket, but in a House football match, no place for the faint-hearted or the feeble. Jimmy, then in the lowest year permitted to play in 1st House, is racing down the wing with the ball, about to be challenged by a hefty member of the Upper Sixth (and the 1st XV). The defender sees a soft target and launches a shoulder charge, oblivious of his “victim’s” timing, balance, confidence, and power; oblivious, that is, until he finds himself flat on his back, his energy returned - with interest. If only those who at a distance drew false conclusions about his physique could have witnessed that demonstration of the “pocket battleship” in action.
Confident, but without arrogance, ambitious, but without vanity, Jimmy has worn his success with exemplary modesty. His programme for one month a while back is a perfect illustration. For Nottinghamshire he played T20, 40-over and four-day matches and for England, he was called up as cover for the Test side. Few are expected to take on this sort of varied diet, but Jimmy did not stop there. Having a weekend free, he played in the Birmingham League for Shrewsbury CC (55-overs) and the following day played a 50-over match for the Saracens in the Cricketer Cup. He loved playing and he loved practising and it was never beneath him to return to his old school to do either. The mutual respect between him and Paul Pridgeon has continued undimmed and Jimmy has often been seen in the Cricket Centre, “having a hit” with his valued mentor.
Back in 2008, as he left the field for the last time as a schoolboy, his team-mates stood back and applauded in gratitude and admiration. As he crossed the boundary and approached the steps, Jimmy looked at the Master in Charge. “Thanks, Barn,” he said and made his way into the dressing-room. Five years of adulation ending in a gesture of humility.
Jimmy now faces a new challenge, for which he could not have prepared and about which he can do nothing. Life will be a completely different test, sadly with a small “t”. He goes into it with the heartfelt good wishes of hundreds of Salopians, for whom the cricket pages will never be the same.
James Taylor Runs Record Shrewsbury 2004-2008 (5 seasons)
School 1st XI Fixtures
2004 187 @ 58.24
2005 353 @ 44.12
2006 878 @ 87.80
2007 848 @ 106.00
2008 898 @ 179.60
TOTAL 3164 @ 95.00
ALL School 20-20 National KO (13 matches)
2006-2008 652 @ 61.12
Other 1st XI Fixtures (pre- season etc)
201 @ 41.00
GRAND TOTAL: 4017 @ 65.70