Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Orville Higgins | Stafanie Taylor a Jamaican icon

Published:Friday | October 21, 2016 | 10:00 AM
West Indies women's captain Stafanie Taylor.

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 Fraser-Pryce 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-year-old 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!

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.