Sunday, 19 January 2014

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - T is for Taylor: Bob Taylor

When I sat down to look at the candidates for the best player to wear Derbyshire colours whose name began with the letter T, I expected there to be more candidates than immediately came to mind.

Yet there wasn't. A triumvirate of Taylors is worthy of passing mention before we look at the top three, with Will Taylor being the first. His greatest playing claim to fame was the dismissal of Learie Constantine's father in the tour match of 1906, but he went on to become club secretary for an astonishing fifty-one years until 1959. He saw the club through some very dark financial periods that coincided with perhaps their greatest sustained period of competitiveness, certainly from the early 1930s onwards.

There was also Chris Taylor, who looked a class above most of what we had in 2006, before disappearing after the 2007 season in what appeared a case of poor man management, though there were doubtless faults on both sides. Nor should we overlook Paul Taylor, although he was discarded by the club before going on to take over 550 first-class wickets for Northamptonshire. One of the most consistent county bowlers of the 1990s, his left-arm seam eventually earned him two England caps.

It is another left arm bowler who is third in my list. Colin Tunnicliffe was a solid county professional who took over 300 wickets for the club. He had a kind of 'rolling' run up that always reminded me of a dog, out for a walk, straining to escape the leash, but he was very effective and picked up his fair share of wickets with late swing. Colin was a fan's favourite, as you knew you were going to get total commitment from him, irrespective of the match situation.

He was also a hearty tail end batsman, capable of powerful blows, with his starring role coming in the Nat West final of 1981. His 'clumping' of Northamptonshire's Sarfraz Nawaz enabled us to get past the post when it looked like the game had been thrown away. Few will forget the last ball drama and Geoff Miller's headlong dive to make his ground, but 'Tunners' had bowled steadily and played a vital late hand. His contribution to the club will never be forgotten, that's for sure.

Second has to be all-rounder Les Townsend, who was a very powerful all-rounder through the 1930s after a lengthy apprenticeship in the previous decade. County leg-spinner Tom Mitchell recalled that when he bowled to him in the nets he used to run quickly out of the way, as the ball often came back at a rate of knots! Although the batting of that side could be inconsistent, Townsend's arrival at the crease was always of interest, as he was generally aggressive and hit ferociously once set. From 1932 to 1938 he breezed past a thousand runs each summer, his golden year being 1933, when 2268 runs flowed from his bat, a tally that included six centuries and ten fifties. His 'arc' was generally between long on and long off and spectators were often kept on their toes in that area of grounds.

Aside from his batting in 1933, he also took one hundred wickets at just eighteen with his off-spin. Considering that he usually only came on when Bill Copson, the Pope brothers and Tommy Mitchell had been tried, he took an astonishing 1088 wickets in his career at just over 21, taking five in an innings on fifty-one occasions. In most other categories he would deservedly have been number one, but this is no ordinary category.

Because in first place is the greatest wicket-keeper I ever expect to see, Bob Taylor.

In a side that lacked real stars, the standout players in the first Derbyshire side I saw were Harold Rhodes and Bob Taylor. Rhodes bowled quickly, though near the end of his career when I saw him, but Taylor was neat, unobtrusive and remarkably consistent.

One of my earliest cricket lessons was my Dad telling me to 'listen' to Taylor taking the ball, whether the bowling or throws from the field. I wondered what he meant, but soon understood, as there was barely a sound. The ball always seemed to be taken cleanly, no matter how wide the delivery or erratic the throw. His footwork was exemplary one rarely saw him diving for balls down the leg side, his quick feet getting him into position for a more conventional 'take'.

When he had to dive, for thick edges, the ball usually stuck, and keep in mind that this was before the advent of modern gloves with webbing between thumb and forefinger that at times in the intervening period has approached the size of a baseball mitt.His reflexes were impressive too, as can be seen in this clip of a catch from Australia's Kim Hughes off the bowling of our own Geoff Miller

Indeed, the greatest surprise was when he conceded byes, as evidenced by the murmur that went around the ground on such occasions. We assumed that the ball must have hit something the umpire hadn't seen, or spun viciously from the rough. It was hard to accept that our hero was a mere mortal.

His England call came late, after Kent's Alan Knott opted for the Packer money that revolutionised the game. Knott was another outstanding 'keeper, though not quite as good as 'Brilliant Bob' behind the stumps, in the eyes of others less parochial than most of us, who would allow no argument. Where Knott scored was as an impish, innovative, pugnacious batsman who often steered a failing England innings to a competitive total. Bob couldn't compete on that playing field, generally being a dogged battler who sold his wicket dearly but ended his career with an average of sixteen, around half that of the Kent man.

When he made the Test side, he made fifty-seven appearances and confirmed what Derbyshire folk had known for around a decade. There were just three half-centuries, but glove work of such a high standard that it barely mattered. Bob didn't need to play catch up, having given lives to opposition batsmen. Catches were held with the minimum of fuss and the fielding generally seemed tidier because Taylor made it so. Watching keepers since has been like having a Rolls Royce for your first car. Everything afterwards will do the job, but its not quite the same thing...

In 1986, having spent the afternoon in the hospitality tent at Lords during a Test Match against New Zealand, Bob was called up from a two-year retirement with the agreement of Jeremy Coney, the Kiwi skipper, after Bruce French was hit on the head by Richard Hadlee. He kept without blemish for much of the final session at the age of 45, wearing borrowed kit.

He did have his wicket-keeping gloves in the car, though. He was always prepared, Bob Taylor and here's my summation, as a bloke not overly renowned for hyperbole.

He was a fantastic player... a true great.

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