Thursday, September 16News That Matters

New Sussex coach Sarah Taylor wants her historic appointment to pave the way for women in cricket

Sarah Taylor isn’t someone who likes a fuss, so it’s no surprise that she celebrated one of the most significant appointments in county cricket history by getting on with her day job coaching sport at Bede’s School in Eastbourne.

Soon, though, she’ll be combining those duties with her new position as wicketkeeper coach at Sussex.

The 31-year-old has worked with the county’s wicketkeepers Ben Brown and Phil Salt on a consultancy basis in the past, but now she’s on the payroll at Hove — the first woman to make that leap in 131 years of first-class cricket.

Sarah Taylor made history after she was appointed wicketkeeper coach at Sussex

Sarah Taylor made history after she was appointed wicketkeeper coach at Sussex

But for the former England wicketkeeper, who retired from international cricket in 2019 as a result of her battles with anxiety, it’s just one small step back into the professional game and the sport that she loves.

‘I’ve worked with Sals (Ian Salisbury) and Kirts (James Kirtley, the Sussex head coaches) when they were with the women’s set-up so they know all about me, and I know all about them,’ she tells Sportsmail.

‘I’m just really grateful that they have backed me. They said, “Come on in, join the group” — they’ve not thought twice about me being a woman, it’s just about the skills I can give. I’ve been really, really lucky to have been given the chance. But I won’t be the last to do it — hopefully this can open doors that were shut before.’

Taylor is the greatest wicketkeeper to have played in the women's game and was close to being in Sussex's second XI for the 2013 season

Taylor is the greatest wicketkeeper to have played in the women’s game and was close to being in Sussex’s second XI for the 2013 season 

By common consent, Taylor is the greatest wicketkeeper to have played in the women’s game. So good in fact, she was reported to have been close to being in Sussex’s second XI for the 2013 season. 

‘It was a blasé comment that came out in a newspaper interview,’ she says. ‘That winter there were a couple of Sussex keepers who were doing exams, Matt Prior was away with England and another one of the keepers was away with the England Lions.

‘It was like, who’s left? And someone said, “Sarah’s there if we need her”. I was asked if I would be willing to play and I told them that of course I was, that wasn’t even a question I needed to think about.

‘Then it just pretty much blew up. Before I knew it, everyone was saying I was going to be playing first-class cricket. That probably added to my anxiety. It made me different from everyone which was something I didn’t want.’

That same summer, Taylor became the first woman to play in the Birmingham Premier League, turning out for Sutton Coldfield, Chris Woakes’ club when he was coming through as a junior. 

The 31-year-old walked away from cricket in 2019, citing her ongoing battle with anxiety

The 31-year-old walked away from cricket in 2019, citing her ongoing battle with anxiety

Just two years later she was breaking new ground, this time in Adelaide when she became the first female to play in an A Grade competition — the highest level of club cricket Down Under. 

‘The Australia thing was a massive experience and learning curve for me,’ says Taylor, who back in January helped Sussex launch their own mental health and wellbeing platform. I was hoping it was going to be a little bit more low key but it went boom. Trying to balance social anxiety with the limelight was something I really struggled with.’

In 2016, Taylor took an indefinite break from international cricket, speaking publicly about anxiety issues that had built up steadily over a four-year period.

She returned to the England side in some style, helping them win the World Cup on home soil in 2017. She scored a crucial 45 in the final as the hosts beat India by nine runs at Lord’s.

Taylor’s last international appearance came in a Test against Australia in July 2019. Just three months later she would walk away from the sport completely, citing her ongoing battles with anxiety. 

Taylor is hoping her appointment will help open more doors for women in the sport

Taylor is hoping her appointment will help open more doors for women in the sport

‘Cricket in general was brilliant with me, England knew the paths I needed to go down and they gave me all the support they could,’ says Taylor, who is studying for a diploma in sports psychology. 

Any spare time has now disappeared, with school sport returning and the cricket season once again looming into view.

So, at this time of year, does Taylor ever envisage what might have been had she been given the chance to play as well as coach in the first-class game?

‘I would have done a job,’ she says. ‘I think keeping wicket lends itself more than bowling or batting. I might be completely wrong in that, but the ball would just come harder and slightly higher. That’s the only real difference.

‘I doubt I would have looked too out of place. But facing Jofra in the nets? I think I would have been inside having a cup of tea at that point.’