Cricket: England v South Africa

Taylor moves into the fast lane

The 22-year-old Nottinghamshire batsman has a good track record against pace, but how will he fare against Steyn and Morkel?

Taylor moves into the fast lane

With Ravi Bopara unavailable for the second Test against South Africa for personal reasons the England selectors have brought in the diminutive Nottinghamshire middle-order batsman James Taylor.

Just 22, Taylor played a single one-day international against Ireland last summer but has been scoring runs for – and captaining – the England Lions for the last three years.

It is not hard to see why he has been in the selectors’ sights over this time; he has played 75 first-class matches for Leicestershire and then Nottinghamshire at an average of just under 50, and has made 13 championship centuries.

There was surprise in some quarters when he was not picked last year against India when Jonathan Trott was injured at Trent Bridge. Instead Bopara was brought in, but given that Taylor had just scored 76 and 98 batting at four for the Lions against Sri Lanka A, he was the form man. At the time he was still considered a little too young and inexperienced.

Taylor moved from Leicestershire to Nottinghamshire in December 2011 in an effort to develop his game in the first division. The Nottinghamshire squad is also rich in players from the England camp.

By Taylor's high standards he has not had the best of starts in the four-day game. His average this year was only in the mid thirties until last weekend's timely 163* against Sussex which boosted it above 40.

Over the winter Taylor captained the Lions on their tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Bangladesh leg was lost 3-2 and Taylor took a while to come good, but he managed a steady 65 in the last match in which England chased down 152. In Sri Lanka, England won 3-2, but Taylor contributed little.

Despite his struggles on the one-day tours of Asia, Taylor has had a lot of success in the shorter formats. His List A average of 46.6 is only a shade lower than his first-class average. He is greatly feared in the domestic Pro40 and Twenty20 competitions because of his ability to take the game away from the opposition.

At the end of May he devastated Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl when he made a 77-ball 115* – 90 of his runs came off his last 32 deliveries.

The international batsman Taylor is most often compared to is Sachin Tendulkar, and not simply because he is only 5’ 5”. He has a similarly compact presence at the crease and excellent footwork. He can also move up through the gears and pace an innings as the match requires. After all, he would not have been made captain of the England Lions at such a tender age if he were not an intelligent cricketer.

The final question must be how he will fare against pace bowling at the highest level. The closest he has come is captaining the Lions against the West Indies earlier this summer. He made 118 off 179 balls before being caught behind off Fidel Edwards but he had already scored 32 runs off him – plus 36 off Kemar Roach who also bowls in the high eighties.

While neither of them is Dale Steyn his performance in this match might well have been the biggest reason he has been selected now when he was overlooked last year.