View from the Kirkstall Lane End: Taylor impresses on debut
The diminutive batsman had the demeanour of a man ready to step up to Test cricket and was not phased by Pietersen's brilliance
When James Taylor walked out to bat at 173 for 4 there was a huge cheer from the Headingley crowd. They had taken to the 22-year-old Nottinghamshire batsman on the first day when he fielded tenaciously and enthusiastically. But this was a much bigger trial of his temperament.
The loss of another wicket or two and England were in danger of conceding a big first-innings deficit. Pietersen, on 44, was beginning to tick, but no other batsman had mastered the South African attack, in which Steyn, Philander and Morkel occupy positions one, four and six in the world rankings.
Taylor had five deliveries of a Kallis over to withstand. After sparring at the first outside off stump, there was more loud applause when he defensively prodded the next into the off side.
He played a lovely extra cover boundary off leg-spinner Imran Tahir in the next over to get off the mark, but then was largely a spectator for some time as Pietersen began to destroy the visiting attack in the way that only Petersen can.
This might have been intimidating for Taylor, almost scoreless at the other end, but he calmly defended and left the ball whenever possible. He had made 11 when the partnership reached 50, 20 when the pair had added 100.
If Pietersen was thrilling, Taylor was increasingly impressive. He has the demeanour of a Test batsman. Like all small players – he is 5’4” – he favours the back foot. Despite playing his first Test innings, and coming to the wicket in a tight situation, he had the confidence to let the ball come to him. Nerves would have been understandable, but his compact style and unhurried defence belied his inexperience. He pushed singles, enabling Pietersen to destroy the opposition.
As Taylor’s innings, and the partnership, progressed, the young batsman began to look for scoring opportunities. He stroked Tahir through mid-wicket wristily, then square cut Philander for four. And all the while his immaculate, careful defence continued as the partnership approached 150, seeing off the second new ball.
Talor was looking so solid and confident that it was a surprise when Morkel dismissed him. A shortish delivery found the inside-edge and deflected onto the leg-stump. The ovation he received for his 34 runs was genuine and well-deserved. He and Pietersen added 147 runs for the fifth wicket, taking England from a vulnerable position to one of near strength.
Number six has become a problem position for England. Morgan was Collingwood’s heir apparent, but, despite his scintillating form in ODIs and T20s, he has not quite looked a Test player yet.
Bairstow had a brief trial and his time will surely come again. And the unfortunate Bopara is still waiting for the chance to show his true capabilities. However, they may all have to wait if Taylor’s performance is a true indication of his aptitude for Test cricket.