England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor took a year out from the sport as she battled to overcome crippling anxiety problems. However, she has found such support from cricket’s governing body that she is ready to make her comeback in the World Cup this summer
Sarah Taylor’s comeback to cricket’s international stage is more than just a boost for the England team ahead of the home World Cup next month. In an era where two of our most successful Olympic sports, rowing and cycling, have been rocked with accusations of sexism and bullying, cricket has bucked the trend with its wholly supportive and caring approach to Taylor as she battled to overcome crippling anxiety.
Simply getting out of a bed was a highlight on some of Taylor’s darkest days. But the English Cricket Board have remained true to the wicketkeeper by naming her in the World Cup squad, indicating their faith in her and the acceptance and understanding that sound mental health is as important as what happens on the pitch.
There was once a time when male footballers were dropped for asking to attend the birth of their children. Now, the macho culture that has previously typified elite sport is softening. The ECB went one step further to protect their player after her year-long break, conducting her comeback interview themselves to ease the pressure and attention on her.
Taylor confessed: “It’s been a tough 12 months and lots has been learnt in that time. In terms of where I am with my cricket, I’m incredibly comfortable to be back playing and the girls have been absolutely brilliant. It’s just nice to be back around them, and the fact that the World Cup is at home as well makes it extra special. To be back in time for the World Cup has been a hard journey but very worth it so far.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of anxiety, from day-to-day stuff to my return to cricket. It’s been very graduated – the ECB have been brilliant in terms of not just rushing me back in – and it’s actually been very calculated in different areas.
“I’m back and I’m ready to face the World Cup and the scrutiny that professional sport
brings. I don’t think we can shy away from the fact that in a World Cup there will be pressure. Through what I’ve dealt with over the last 12 months, I feel like I’m probably mentally strong enough to deal with those pressures.”
The way the ECB have eased Taylor back into the game at her own pace, thus taking the anxiety she was suffering with the utmost sincerity, comes as a relief after months of headlines that have dogged both cycling and rowing. From coach Shane Sutton dropping track cyclist Jess Varnish, and allegedly telling her to “go and have a baby”, to Paul Thompson reportedly operating a “culture of fear” in British Rowing, how women are treated in elite sport is increasingly in the spotlight.
There is a thin line between striving for success in elite sport and creating a damaging culture with a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. Women such as Victoria Pendleton, Emily Taylor and Varnish have often found themselves at the sharp end of that, while Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) and Nicole Cooke have both spoken out about the discrimination they have faced at the hands of team coaches. Indeed, both cycling and rowing have publicly announced they will be reassessing the culture under which countless medals have been won, and will put steps in place to assure the sports make headlines for the right reasons in the future.
For Taylor, the support of the ECB has made her more open to accepting her mental health problems and realising her recovery is ongoing and forever evolving. “When I took that break I didn’t look too far ahead. I couldn’t. I was always told not to look too far in the future, to take it day by day and as it comes. To look towards the World Cup never even got into my head. It was never something I was striving for at the time, then all of a sudden I found myself wanting to train again,” she said.
“Next thing I knew I was on a plane going to Abu Dhabi [England’s training camp] and that was a very last-minute decision. It was a tough tour to go through, but for myself, the girls and the staff, it was a massive learning curve. I guess that’s probably made this decision a little bit easier, to make myself available for the World Cup and then to push on through it.
“I’ve learnt that the person I became over the last three or four years wasn’t me, I wasn’t being honest with myself. That was the biggest step for me, to actually come out and admit it. I’d obviously got to a point where I’d probably left it a little bit too long but it’s actually so important to just say something. People are a lot more accepting and it’s a lot more normal to talk about it these days.
“As soon as I actually said something I was able to get the help that I needed. I’m in a much better position now than I was last year, and from where I was three or four years ago.
“You’ve got to accept that those bad days will just randomly come about. Sometimes you can feel them coming, but other days you just have to accept that they’re there. Acceptance has probably been the biggest learning curve for me. Everything you do, you just accept and you just be proud of it – no matter how small.
“It’s now just a case of putting a lot of strategies in place to cope with day-to-day tasks and cricket. Hopefully I can use them and push them towards performances and playing well for my country.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.