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January 16, 2014
It is a good time to be a player on the fringes of the England Test team. There is clamour for change following the Ashes whitewash and with reformation imminent the England Lions programme has never taken on such value.
Untried is now better than overexposed. Potential is preferred to experience. The Lions' tour to Sri Lanka for three unofficial Tests in February has become as wide a shop window as most of the players will have enjoyed.
Only five of the party have previous Test experience. James Taylor is one of those. An attractive strokemaker, his debut against South Africa at Headingley was presented as the arrival of a player earmarked for England for some time but two Tests into his career and he was back on the heap of alternatives. Two ODIs is the only other international cricket on his CV.
"Those Tests were a dream come true but it was a short dream," Taylor said at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough, the heating on full blast in an attempt to create the conditions of Kandy, Dambulla and Colombo. "Obviously I wasn't selected for the next tour but sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward and I feel I've definitely learned so much from that little experience.
"I came back last year and scored the runs I did, then again I was frustrated not to get picked on the Ashes trip. So I've kind of been batted down a couple of times but that inspires me more to get up and show them what I can do and prove people wrong.
"I've had a little taste but I haven't really been around the squad for a long time. I think that's the key, so I want to be get on a tour and show what I can do over a long period of time."
Taylor was a victim of a stable England set up that produced much success. He was not required for the India tour and a 2-1 success suggests the tour party was selected perfectly. But with the old era seemingly concluded with the Ashes humiliation and as many as seven players from the squad having potentially played their last Test, England may no longer have the riches to overlook much longer a 24-year-old with a first-class average of 47.35.
Dejected at being omitted from the Ashes squad after a summer where his first-class average was a shade under 50, Taylor travelled to Perth to play club cricket and met England one-day coach Ashley Giles. Team director Andy Flower was also in touch. "Positive" was the theme of the conversations. Flower, batting coach Graham Gooch and new national selector James Whitaker will all be in Sri Lanka at some stage.
Advice also came from an unexpected source with Mickey Arthur, deposed as Australia head coach before the Ashes in England, lending his ear via Stephen Eskinazi - a friend of Taylor's from Perth who spent last season with Middlesex second XI.
"It wasn't planned," Taylor said about his one-to-one meetings with Arthur, now director of cricket at a grammar school in Perth. "It came about in a funny way but it was great and very worthwhile. To be around a world class coach, somebody who has worked with the best players and have him comment on my game was very positive."
Arthur came to watch every game Taylor played for first-grade side Claremont-Nedlands, where 40 degree sunshine topped up his blond highlights. Taylor averaged 60.60 in six innings, the best of which - 101 not out - came from the same No. 4 slot from where he scored a century against Australia for Sussex last summer as he crept towards Test selection again.
But England could have an opening one place higher with Jonathan Trott's future unclear and a lack of obvious alternatives. Naturally, Taylor is happy to slot in anywhere in the Test side and makes a strong case for himself.
"I will back myself to the hilt. I know I can do it - I obviously had a little taste against South Africa but I've played against a lot of international attacks and scored runs against them. So hopefully, fingers crossed, I get an opportunity. But not just in Test cricket, I want to be playing one-day cricket as well. I've got a little bit of a record behind me but I now need to kick on and show people what I can do.
"It is literally as simple as scoring runs. If I don't score runs, I don't warrant being in the team. That's what came across to me. I've got to make sure the selectors can't not pick me. At the moment, even though I've scored shed-loads of runs, I've probably given them a little bit of an excuse because I haven't gone above and beyond, more than the guys in the Test team at the moment.
"But I'm in a great space. My game's in a great spot. I scored the runs last season in all formats and hopefully this Lions trip is a great opportunity to stake a claim for next summer."
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