Stafanie Tay­lor a Ja­maican icon

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Orville Hig­gins is a sports­caster and talk­show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

MY FIRST as­so­ci­a­tion with Stafanie Tay­lor was in the year 2000. She was then only about nine years old. I used to do a fea­ture on CVM TV then called ‘It All Be­gins Here’, and Stafanie was one of many young­sters that I put on tele­vi­sion for the first time. For the record, sprinter Shelly-Ann FraserPryce and na­tional crick­eter An­dre McCarthy are just two oth­ers who would have ap­peared in that series.

I was told, I be­lieve by her coach at the time, Leon Camp­bell, that there was a lit­tle fe­male bat­ting prodigy at Eltham Pri­mary that I needed to come and see. I didn’t ex­pect much. Eight-yearold girls play­ing cricket at a high level was un­heard of in Ja­maica then. In­deed, it’s still not reg­u­lar now. I made a few calls, and all who spoke to me told me that in­deed she was an ex­cit­ing tal­ent that would fit right into my TV fea­ture. I half-be­lieved that they were all ex­ag­ger­at­ing.

When I ar­rived at the school, I saw a group of young boys, maybe a dozen or so, and there in the midst of them was this in­tro­verted wisp of a lit­tle bare­foot girl. I in­tro­duced my­self to her (she al­ready knew why I was there) and then asked that she have a bat so I could get some footage of her.

I was im­me­di­ately im­pressed. In fact, I was blown away. I had ex­pected that she would be swing­ing wildly, mak­ing con­tact with a few. I wasn’t pre­pared for the cul­tured stroke play. She looked com­pletely or­tho­dox.

I re­mem­ber one par­tic­u­lar shot through the off­side that had me drool­ing. It was copy book. Left foot to the pitch, front knee bent, left el­bow high. The bat com­ing down in a sweet arc ca­ress­ing the ball to­wards ex­tra cover. It’s not as if the boys were bowl­ing easy, ei­ther. For them, she was a peer, and they were bowl­ing nor­mally. She was too small then to hit the ball hard, but her tim­ing was im­mac­u­late and she seemed to have all the shots.

FU­TURE STAR

It took me five min­utes to re­alise that this lit­tle bare­footed girl was a fu­ture star. In the in­ter­view that fol­lowed, she was re­served, even shy, but she spoke well. When I aired the fea­ture the fol­low­ing week, I got a lot of calls from peo­ple say­ing how im­pressed they were.

I have fol­lowed her re­mark­able story since and I’m a life­long fan. She took up cricket only af­ter play­ing foot­ball and net­ball. When she first saw her coach with a bat at about age seven, she had no idea what it was! She gave cricket a try by first ty­ing up a ball in stock­ings on the cross­bar of a goal. Her coach said she was com­pletely nat­u­ral. Af­ter she started play­ing, her coach con­vinced her that she had to choose. She had heard that fe­male crick­eters were more likely to travel than foot­ballers and net­ballers, and that did it for her! Her progress there­after was rapid.

She started play­ing for the Ja­maica se­nior team at age 10! Her tal­ent was too ob­vi­ous to be de­nied, even at that age. She told me only re­cently that she got out cheaply in a match against Trinidad in that first out­ing and bawled like a baby af­ter­wards! It took seven years of play­ing for Ja­maica be­fore she made the West Indies team at 17. Her im­pact on the in­ter­na­tional scene was al­most im­me­di­ate.

UN­HEARD OF

She av­er­ages a healthy 45 in ODIs and an im­pres­sive 35 in T20s. She has al­ready scored five in­ter­na­tional hun­dreds and 23 half-cen­turies. She can be bru­tal in her stroke play (Chris Gayle is her favourite crick­eter), and in one of her ear­lier T20s she scored 90 from 49 balls, which, in the women’s game, is al­most un­heard of.

Maybe be­cause she is so cru­cial to the West Indies bat­ting line-up she has had to be a lot more re­served nowa­days, and now that the bur­den of cap­taincy has been placed on her, she bats nowa­days with a greater de­gree of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Sadly, she doesn’t get the ac­co­lades she de­serves. She isn’t half as cel­e­brated in Ja­maica as she should be. In 2011, she was the ICC Woman Crick­eter of the Year. In 2012, she was women’s ODI Crick­eter of the Year. In 2015, she was the woman T20 Crick­eter of the Year. In-be­tween those times, she has been the best bats­man (bat­ter?) in the women’s game or of­ten recog­nised as the top all-rounder. She is, in her own way, as out­stand­ing as any fe­male sports per­son­al­ity that we have ever pro­duced. Let’s take the time to salute a true sport­ing icon!

West Indies Women’s cap­tain Stafanie Tay­lor.

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