When the first delivery thuds into the centre strip at the Gabba, Brisbane next month, one man more than most will have a rueful smile etched on his face.
James Taylor will enjoy watching his friends attempt to reprise utter humiliation from four years ago – but how dearly he would have wanted to be alongside them.
Having missed out on selection to cricket’s fiercest rivalry in 2013 and 2015, Taylor had a position to lose in the England batting line-up before his career was brought to an immediate halt in April, 2016.
A heart defect spotted during an examination for a possible chest infection forced him to retire from cricket with immediate effect – ending a promising career that had just got in motion.
“It’s been incredibly hard but, thankfully, I’ve had some amazing people around me,” Taylor told The Yorkshire Post.
“The public have made it as easy as it could have been. Social media has been incredible. They have stuck by me, they have supported me and made it easier to be positive. I have had to adapt to a new way of life, a new body and new challenges but I relish challenges so I have gone with it.”
I have had to adapt to a new way of life, a new body and new challenges but I relish challenges so I have gone with it.James Taylor
In the ensuing 18 months, Taylor has developed his skills to talk about the game he loves.
Television and radio chiefs swooped quickly to add him to their rosters and his experiences are being shared with children across the country as a patron of charities Chance to Shine and the British Heart Foundation.
Taylor has on occasion returned to the nets to hold a bat and reflect on what might have been but his illness will not allow him to play again, even in charity matches – where he stood in as umpire during Test Match Special’s 60th anniversary game earlier this summer.
“Every day is a little bit different, it’s pretty hit and miss,” said Taylor.
“I’m still here, that’s all that matters. I have great people around me.
“I am doing things that I love, commentating, writing columns, coaching and working for Chance to Shine – and golf, as well. The handicap is going down. I’m down to 10 in nine months, we’ll see how low I can get.”
However, success on the golf course cannot take away the rawness of seeing his friends in battle on the cricket field.
“Sometimes it’s tough to see,” admits Taylor. “But it’s enjoyable as well to see the guys that I like achieve what they should be achieving.
“To know I was part of that team is really nice, too. “
For that to happen, England will need to finally find Taylor’s replacement.
The Three Lions head to Australia with a number of indecisions in a jittery batting line-up with the void at No 5 highlighting Taylor’s loss to the game.
Nevertheless, Taylor believes England have the capability to take the game to a new level under Joe Root.
“The team are only going to go from strength to strength,” he added. “I’m sure they will be the best team in the world.
“Joe hasn’t got much experience but nobody in that England team has.
“I think he will be a good captain. Hopefully, he will do it for many years to come.
“He’s a good guy. He has the respect of the team and the respect of the nation in terms of how he goes about scoring his runs.”
Had illness not interrupted, some may have had Taylor down as a man to fill the captaincy shoes at some stage during his career.
From making his first-class debut at Leicestershire as an 18-year-old, he was earmarked as ‘one for the future’.
His move to Nottinghamshire helped him show off his international credentials and he made his first appearance for England against Ireland in a one-day match in 2011.
However, similar to Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow, Taylor had a fragmented start to life on the world stage. He made his Test debut against South Africa in 2012 but then had to wait three years before a second chance arrived.
In that time, Taylor missed out on the Ashes tour Down Under for the 5-0 hammering in 2013-14 and the reverse fortunes of England’s series win during the summer of 2015.
In the meantime, he forced his way into England’s one-day team, featuring at the 2015 World Cup and scoring an unbeaten 98 against Australia.
A return over five days came about during England’s toils in the UAE against Pakistan in 2015.
Taylor was picked in place of Jos Buttler for the third and final Test and took the chance with a score of 76 in the first innings.
His scurrying between the wickets looked to have become a permanent fixture in the England set up after the 27-year-old helped secure a momentous home series win over world No 1 South Africa – with two takes at short leg earning viral status around the world.
That series was special but, at the time, it was one which he believed would be bettered.
“It was the best feeling I had on a cricket field,” reflected Taylor. “Not many people can say they finished on a cricket field with those feelings or that they achieved what I achieved.
“The last time I completed a full game, I scored a hundred for England against South Africa A in the warm-up games. I got 115 or so.
“That was the last full game I completed for England. It was a good way to finish and fills me with joy to have finished on a high.”
The transition into the commentary box has seemingly become natural for ex-players.
Superior knowledge and expertise allows for greater depths of analysis and Taylor has become a popular member of the TMS team.
“I love it,” added Taylor. “I certainly enjoy it a lot more than I thought I would and it comes more naturally than I thought it would. I’m by no means the finished article but the more I do it, the better I will get.
“It’s the next best thing, watching my mates play the game I love and talking about it, giving my opinions, which I love.”
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