When Brian Taylor was made captain in 1967 it could scarcely have been a more difficult time for Essex. The previous season's loss of £9,000 placed the club in a serious financial plight, and one of the many necessary economies was the reduction of the playing staff to a skeleton thirteen. Barry Knight, one of the game's leading all-rounders, had left, and of the playing strength Keith Boyce and John Lever were about to start their first seasons.
To many Taylor inherited an impossible cause. But he is made of sterner stuff, and with true Cockney philosophy remarked: "There is now only one direction Essex can go -- up." And up Essex have gone, turning losses into profits -- a notable achievement when the majority of clubs are defeated by soaring costs -- blossoming into an attractive side, and achieving much in the John Player League. In 1969 they finished third, fourth in 1970, and last season were runners-up. In short Essex are good value, and give of their best always.
Brian Taylor, born in the East London borough of West Ham, on June 19, 1932, would be the last to exaggerate his own part in Essex's exciting revival. Tom Pearce, the former captain and Test selector, leads a vigorous committee unafraid of hard work -- it is a common sight on Sundays to see D. J. Insole, another former captain, England batsman and chairman of the Test selectors, selling match cards. Major Topper Brown, secretary since 1964, works a time sheet which would make a good trade unionist blanch.
Yet all the effort behind the scenes would be largely unavailing without the right spirit of endeavour on the field. Taylor must take credit for instinctively shaping a policy which has brought results and an avalanche of compliments. To begin at the beginning, Taylor decided that fielding was the one department in which his young team could excel, and, with the proper support, add to the efficiency of the bowlers. "We run and field like mad," says Taylor. "We are absolutely honest with each other, and we do our best to try and help a team-mate going through a bad patch. This can be done by shielding an out-of-form batsman from a bout of difficult bowling, or taking the responsibility of a skied catch. One of the reasons why a good spirit exists comes from all pulling in the right direction. We came through the club's bad times together, and the loyalty remains in the better times."
"Too much theory is out at Essex. True, we try and play on the weaknesses of our opponents as we see them, but I have always believed cricket, like life itself, to be simple. Only people tend to make life difficult, and cricketers make cricket difficult. Our tactics, as such, are simple. We try and score our runs without wasting time, and our bowlers bowl as straight as they can. The fielders do their best to back them up. How many times do you see moderate bowling made to look far better than it is with catches well taken and the fielders looking dead keen? We see ourselves as entertainers, not professional bores, and if we can win in the process of enjoying our cricket so much the better."
Apart from his captaincy, which has a shrewd tactical sense allied to a dash of adventure, Taylor adds a touch of cheerful philosophy and a full contribution as a player. His wicket-keeping is of a consistently high class, and in 1956-57 he was Godfrey Evans' deputy during M.C.C.'s tour of South Africa. The brilliance of Evans blocked his path to the summit. As a batsman Taylor alternates between the dazzling and the baffling, probably because he tends to play across the line of the ball. His timing can be exquisite, and in full flight there are few better left-handers to watch anywhere.
Like many top players Taylor, chosen by the Cricket Writers' Club as the Best Young Cricketer of the Year in 1956, looks back with gratitude to his mentors. The first was Leslie Fielding, his master at Central Park School, East Ham, who was a great influence both in the class-room and on the cricket and football fields. Taylor's Soccer career included periods with Brentford, and the Southern League Clubs, Bexley United -- for whom he was also manager -- and Dover.
Taylor was Essex Schools' first post-war cricket captain, and it was Mr. Fielding who spotted an offer by the Evening News of individual coaching to selected boys at Alf Gover's School. Taylor was at once selected by Gover and E. M. Wellings, the paper's cricket correspondent, and he was passed to George Porter. He could not have been in better hands. Taylor, Alan Moss, the England and Middlesex fast bowler and Malcolm Heath, the Hampshire pace bowler, were the first of the commendable scheme to pass into county cricket.
Porter continued to coach Taylor until he went into the R.A.F. for two years' National Service during which time he had practically no chance of serious cricket. His broken career restarted in 1953. The following year he was a regular member of the Essex first team as a batsman. Paul Gibb, the former England and Yorkshire player, was the wicket-keeper, and in due course Taylor shared the gloves with Gibb.
By 1956 Taylor was the regular wicket-keeper, and was earning his name as Tonker for his aggressive batting. "I suppose it's right to say that if I'd taken more care with my batting I would have got far better results. But I, and perhaps the crowds, have had more enjoyment at the way I have batted."
Every so often Tonker plays one of those innings which really excite. In 1962 when he was enduring a patch when absolutely nothing seemed to go right, Essex played Gloucestershire at Clacton-on-Sea. They were set the hard task of making 298 in four and a quarter hours and when four wickets had gone for 148 Trevor Bailey, his captain, told Taylor to go in and try and get the scoring tempo moving once more. In the first innings he had failed to score, and though inwardly feeling the wrong man had been chosen for the job, Taylor soon found himself with 40 runs.
In the end Taylor made 105 not out with three 6's and fifteen 4's in one hour, fifty minutes, and Essex won by five wickets with ten minutes to spare. If that was one of the best innings of his life perhaps his most exhilarating was to take 95 off 60 balls by Worcestershire in fifty-five minutes in the John Player League -- the competition which might have been started to fit Essex's skills and enthusiasm. Last season Taylor, who opens the innings on Sundays and has so often given his side the start they need for a big total, scored 100 against Derbyshire at Buxton off 84 balls in eighty minutes. It is little wonder that the public have taken to limited-over cricket, and Essex have to open their gates as early as 10 o'clock for an afternoon start.
In the Championship Taylor's 135 off Middlesex at Lord's in 1959 remains his highest score. But his batting must never be valued on paper statistics. It is rather like a happily-presented spontaneous gift, and English cricket over the last decade would have been much the poorer without his generous offerings both as player and captain.-- A.B.