The Spark

Cricket player James Taylor batting for Nottinghamshire before his retirement due to a heart condition
James Taylor (via DncnH, Flickr)

Royal London One-Day Cup, 1st Quarter-Final: Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire at Nottingham, Aug 26, 2014
(Video highlights)

44.2
Footitt to Taylor, 2 runs

Flicked off the hip behind square, and as batting partner James Franklin reaches the halfway point of the pitch, James Taylor is about to ground his bat at the other end. Remember that Taylor has played a back-foot stroke and was therefore bound to the crease, but he has still covered almost twice the distance of Franklin, who had the luxury of backing up (and of a non-striker’s clear head).

But Taylor is on 98, just another short sprint from a perfectly paced century, so he turns and bolts back across the pitch. He is a short man, barely five foot six, but the blur of his legs brings him home comfortably ahead of the throw.

He raises his bat calmly to acknowledge the crowd’s applause. His heart rate is high from the sprint, and he takes a few moments to let it settle and soak in the glory of three figures. Then he plunders 46 more runs off the last five overs of Nottinghamshire’s innings — ultimately enough for a comfortable victory.

*

James Taylor’s cricket was characterised by electrifying bursts of energy, especially in his running between the wickets. During his only international century, in a one-day international at home to Australia, he was content to wait until his 53rd delivery to hit a boundary. Not that it had mattered all that much. Taylor’s hard running had already brought him 42 runs up to that point.

As those last few overs against Derbyshire showed, Taylor was also as effective and innovative a short-form hitter as anyone. From paddle-sweeps to smashes down the ground, James Taylor could hit you just about anywhere. And if he failed to find the boundary, you knew he would probably take on the fielder’s arm and come back for a second or third, and almost certainly make it home.

Taylor’s superior fitness and passion for training also made him an outstanding fielder. His work at short leg during England’s remarkable series win in South Africa in 2015 was especially notable, with cricket podcast Reverse Swept Radio suggesting Taylor was the best specialist short leg since Brian Close.

*

Given the broad and ever-widening range of his gifts, it almost seems unfair on us, the fans, that we won’t get to see James Taylor play any more. Of course, it is much more unfair on him. He just seemed to have cracked England’s Test team, having established himself in the one-day side. The rate and all-round nature of his development suggested he could wear the Three Lions for another decade, anchoring the middle order with Joe Root.

Unfortunately, Taylor’s diagnosis of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) cannot be taken lightly. Retirement is the only option. It is possible that he could continue playing for years without any problem — he has, after all, been playing top-level cricket for eight years already — but the consequences of an adverse incident would constitute the most dire kind of medical emergency.

For example, there is the story of Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton Wanderers footballer who retired after an on-field collapse and a similar diagnosis, is well known. And if you have a really hard heart, type Antonio Puerta or Miklos Feher into YouTube.

The condition is not so commonly discussed in cricket as it is in football. Presumably, football requires greater exertion on the part of the player and therefore poses a greater risk of cardiomyopathy-related arrhythmia. But a study by the Government Medical College of Surat in Gujarat, India, cites the sudden death of an 18-year-old male cricketer due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

There is therefore at least one precedent of sudden cardiac arrest on a cricket field. The risk is not worth any reward.

*

James Taylor has now been implanted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator device (ICD), which shocks the heart in the event of life-threatening arrhythmia. Support has rolled in from across the globe, from cricket circles and beyond.

He’s also received support from someone who can empathise:

Meantime, Taylor’s liberal Twitter use of hashtags such as #whenlifegivesyoulemons and #BeingHeldCaptive suggest he is taking his current predicament with some humour. I expect his tenacity and drive on the cricket field will translate to his career off it.

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