Confidence. Anticipation. Presence of mind.
These are the three things that ran the world of Sarah Taylor. She stands close to the stumps, as close as possible, and the batter would be terrified to move their feet outside the crease.
She practised different drills that helped her reflexes. She had the awareness of what the player would do next, based on the situation. She was ready to use every single opportunity to convert half-chances to wickets. Thereby, winning games for her team with ease.
With the bat, you could see a calm yet powerful batter who would be the nightmare for the bowlers. She kept improving and was on the top of her game.
When she was at the golden phase of her career, she knew something wasn’t right. She understood that she needed a break. The first break of her career came in 2015. This time it was more of personal reasons, relationships and stuff. She knew she had clear her mind.
After months, she returned to the game with more confidence, however, anxiety was getting bigger with every single day. After the World Cup loss in 2016, she had her second break. It was merely due to the poor performances she was having, especially, a poor World Cup.
The semifinal dismissal was one of the reasons too. She batting at 21 when the team needed her to play responsibly. However, it was just too much for her and she ended up playing a reverse sweep right into the hands of Healy. Possibly, the softest dismissal ever. Australia won the game by five runs.
This time, she was vocal about her mental health and began to share her story. She revealed how she was undergoing therapy. She still was confident about getting back to the game as early as possible.
When she took the break, she was topping the T20I players’ list, and there you go, the fear of falling apart.
She didn’t play a single game till 2017 May and came back to the World Cup. She was a part of the winning team. She was taking one step at a time, avoided unexpected travel, gave up flights and preferred road. She even took a metro after years and she wrote on Social media about how proud she was for taking a big step like that. These tiny victories made her the happiest despite being one of the most celebrated cricketers ever.
June 11, 2018. Wisden shares a video compilation of Sarah Taylor’s best stumpings. Those reflexes and the presence of mind made everyone to decide on the fact that she is the best around the world. Australian wicketkeeper Gilchrist was the first to say that loud. Now, things coming from one of the legends of the game must be something. It must put you on the top of the world. Of course, because Gilchrist knows what it takes to be on the top.
For Taylor though, she was busy stumping her inner demons. The anxiety was taking over everything, every time there is pressure. Now, for someone who tried to get back to the game after a few months break, this is an added pressure too. The only way to get rid of it is to shut things down and understand that life is more important than anything else.
It was mostly the pressure she was putting on herself everything she stepped out to bat. She wanted to score more every time she batted and that triggered anxiety and every time she failed, the panic attacks were only getting worse. She realized that her anxiety about not performing is only making things worse. She knew she had to address things.
From starting her career as a teenager, Taylor was considered one of the greatest to play the game. However, the last year before her retirement, there were questions about her place. Something that used to be mandatory became uncertain. She had to call it day because she thought that was good for her as well as the team. She thought that the team could rely on the youngsters keeping the 2021 world cup in mind. She called it a day in September last year.
It certainly was one of the saddest moments for all the fans out there for Taylor though it is the best thing to happen. She knew what she really wanted. She knew it was not right to play the game when she was enjoying. She wanted to put her life first rather than the game. She was glad and proud that she went on to take the decision.
Of course, the sport is brutal. The enjoyable ups and unbearable lows are just like our lives, the closest representation of how things can change within a moment. It is unpredictable. The stardom doesn’t come without the shit load of fear. There is a fear of not performing the next day. There is a fear of failure and falling. Handling the spotlight isn’t easy for everyone though they enjoy them. What if they fail, what if they couldn’t live up to the expectations, what if there isn’t any upwards, what if they let their team down. With so many what-ifs, the anxiety takes over and battling the inner demons kill people more than anything else.
With a decision to be open about mental health, lesser did Taylor know that she was starting a legacy. She became the reason for many players to open up about their mental health and be vocal, supportive of the same. She was one of the reasons why Mental Health issues are almost normalized in the game.
At the end of the day, cricket is just a game and there is so much more to life. Putting your mental health first is very much important than running behind things that adds more pressure.
No matter what, Taylor will always be an inspiration no only because of the game but also for opening up and helping others to follow her path. She also recently co-founded a mental health charity programme named Awesome minds.
Image courtesy: Getty Images