Claire Taylor reaping the fruits of hard labour
It's hard to believe that the world's premier batsman Claire Taylor was once a bottom-handed hockey player with the wrong batting mindset, described by her coach Mark Lane as "just average."
Taylor, widely feted as Wisden Cricketer of the Year and currently the world's no 1 batter in the ICC rankings, has worked hard over the last ten years to become the world's premier batter.
The 33-year-old cemented the position in style by being the leading scorer at the ICC Women's World Cup in March with 342 runs at 64.80 and has just stroked England into the ICC World Twenty20 final with a supreme 53-ball 76 against Australia in the semi-final at The Oval.
Lane, now England coach, has been working with Taylor for a decade after she approached him upon making the England side. Taylor was then a wicketkeeper-batsman, batting at number nine, and Lane had been recommended to her as a keeping coach.
An honest Lane recalls not being particularly impressed with Taylor's batting. "She was just average, I would say. But I basically said if you want to do it, let's do it properly. There will be a few tears along the way but you will just have to trust me."
For ten years they worked every Tuesday night in Guildford for 90 minutes from 5.30pm, with Lane's main aim to change her mindset more than anything.
"She wasn't using her main assets, which are her strength and timing," he says. "She's got a brilliant cricketing brain."
Taylor's intelligence - she has a Masters degree in Mathematics - can threaten to get the better of her, however. "She thinks too deep sometimes," Lane says, "and I have to tell her: 'Don't worry about it, let me deal with that.'
In the years leading up to the 2005 World Cup, Taylor had concentrated on cricket exclusively, but so upset was she when Australia dumped them out of the semi-final that she decided a better balance in her life was in order. She returned to the violin and management consultancy and the rest is history.
Now Taylor is reaping the reward for her accomplishments, but so is Lane. "All the hard work you do at indoor schools, you see it happening on the pitch and you think: 'That is why I do it.'" So integral to her success is he that she even asked him to accompany her to the Wisden dinner this year. "She's very grateful to me and I'm very grateful to her," Lane says.
The level-headed Taylor admits she allowed herself to enjoy the heavy media attention after the World Cup and with the Wisden award. "It was really exciting to see what happens backstage in TV and be on the radio," Taylor says. "It took a while to get back to normal life, really."
It would be easy for Taylor to get carried away with her success but she quickly turned her focus to the World Twenty20 where England will now face New Zealand in the final at Lord's on Sunday.
"The girls got together and thought 'Do you know what, we'd really love to play that positive, exciting brand of cricket that we were playing at the World Cup'. We know that doesn't come easily."