By Garfield Robinson
Permit me to try and recall a story: When West Indies pacer Jerome Taylor was around 10 years old, according to his father, he approached him one day, delivering himself most importunately, suggesting that he was now ready for a place on the local cricket team that his father captained. Deciding to indulge his son, he brought him along to the next practice session and handed him the ball. The result was three wickets with his first three deliveries, all bowled. It would have been four in four too, for the batsman was hit dead in front, but there was no umpire to adjudicate leg before decisions and so he survived.
Taylor went on to star for his high school, St Elizabeth Technical in Jamaica, and made his first class debut in February 2003 against the Windward Islands at Sabina Park. Disappointingly wicketless in his first game – clearly the victim of nerves -- he was dropped for the next two, but returned for the encounter against Guyana at Bourda where he collected his 1st first-class wicket, his only one for the game though he bowled well.
The next game was against Trinidad at the Queens Park Oval, and those fortunate enough to witness Taylor’s performance in the second innings still talk about it. From 20.5 overs he snatched eight wickets for 59 runs, with seven of them bowled or LBW. Bowling at high pace, he was especially adept at bringing the back startlingly back into the right-hander, and many predicted a long and fruitful career bowling fast for the West Indies.
It hasn’t quite turned out that way. He first played for the West Indies in a One Day International (ODI) at Arnos Vale, St. Vincent and did well enough, taking 2/39 runs off his 10 overs, and made his test debut nine days later at the Beausejour Stadium in St. Lucia. Since then, injury, illness, and indifferent form and fitness, meant that his appearances for the West Indies have only been sporadic.
While he has bowled well on occasion, his performances have been spotty. There was a hat trick against Australia in 50-over game and there were five wicket hauls against India and Pakistan. But the wily fast bowler who destroyed Trinidad and Tobago early in his first-class career has not often been in evidence, and only rarely has everything come together for the 6’1” Jamaican.
But one day at Sabina Park it did. It was June 7, 2009, and the first test of the 2008/9 England series had reached its fourth day. The West Indies had replied to the visitor’s first innings score of 318 with 392, a lead of 74.
England would have been a bit concerned at lunch, because they were 11/2 when the break arrived, after Devon Smith accepted a catch at slip from a ball that Taylor sent across Alastair Cook, and Ian Bell went caught behind off Sulieman Benn. Yet there was no indication of the mayhem that was to come.
First ball back, Kevin Pietersen, who had missed a first innings century by just three runs, had his off-stump uprooted by a peach of a delivery from Taylor.Full and heading toward mid-stump it swung away late evading Pietersen’s bat and sending the stick cartwheeling. The crowd erupted. This was a sight that recalled the heady days when the great four pronged pace attack ran rampant, sending batsmen ducking and stumps flying.
Andrew Strauss had labored 69 minutes over nine runs when Taylor found the edge of his defensive bat with a good length delivery that left him slightly. He was caught by the wicketkeeper.
There was more jubilation and dancing when the obdurate Paul Collingwood was defeated by one that snaked wickedly back into him to disturb the leg stump via his inside edge. Not realizing his predicament he hurried up and down the pitch, and it took his partner, Fred Flintoff, to point out to him that he had to return to the pavilion.
Matt Prior lasted four deliveries. A well-disguised slower ball, effectively a fast off-break, made its way between bat and pad to remove his off-stump. At that point the innings stood in ruins at 23/6, and Taylor had taken 5/11 in 7.5 overs of fast bowling of the very highest class.
He completed the over and then bowled another, a maiden, before he was removed from the attack. Comrades-in-arms, Fidel Edwards and Sulieman Benn then wrapped up the innings for 51, which meant that England went down to defeat by an innings and 24 runs on the fourth day. Taylor’s effort was easily the best test bowling performance for 2009.
Taylor never reached anything like those heights again and has not been seen in West Indies’ colours since 2010. Still, he is only 28, and so hope remains.
Sometime after the lunch break on that unforgettable day at Sabina Park, there was a gentleman seated in the George Headley stand who seemed somewhat somber amid all the cheering and euphoria. Observed complaining under his breath he related the source of his troubles when prompted by a fellow spectator. It turns out that upon seeing the game tantalizingly poised at lunch, and expecting play the next day, he went to the ticket office and purchased a number of fifth-day tickets for himself and members of his family. He was worried that he would be refunded.