As England Women prepare to wrap up their T20 series against West Indies, another group of players are reflecting on the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the opportunity it gave them to play the game they love – an opportunity that could have passed them by after the Covid-19 pandemic threatened the entire 2020 women’s season. ESPNcricinfo caught up with Charlotte Taylor, who epitomises the players for whom the tournament was so important.
Sometime after Southern Vipers lifted the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, Charlotte Taylor, their mystery spinner whose six wickets were key to victory over Northern Diamonds in Sunday’s final, wrote a message to her head coach.
“Playing for the Vipers has meant everything to me, thank you for believing in me,” it said.
Coach Charlotte Edwards, the former England captain, has a message for the player she has begun calling “superstar”: don’t go changing.
“It’s been so lovely to watch someone who, probably a year ago, would have said she would have never made this level of cricket,” Edwards tells ESPNcricinfo. “I always thought she had the ability, it’s just whether she did.
“Sunday was just a brilliant moment. I had a tear in my eye when she walked off because I know what she’s been through and she’s done it the tough way at times.
“She’s a great inspiration to a lot of female cricketers out there who think that maybe at 25, 26 it is over for them because it’s seen as very much a younger girls’ sport at the moment. It’s been so lovely to see her really shine at this level and I’m really pleased for her.”
Taylor’s 6 for 34 helped bowl the Diamonds out for 193 in pursuit of the Vipers’ 231, built largely on captain Georgia Adams’ 80 to end an excellent tournament in which Adams scored 500 runs in seven matches.
The 26-year-old Taylor finished with a competition-high 15 wickets, having only been drafted into the Vipers’ playing squad ahead of their third match after they were hit by injuries.
She bowled seven overs and claimed 2 for 13 in a thumping 111-run win over South East Stars at Hove and played every match thereafter during Vipers’ unbeaten season, including a match-winning 4 for 41 against Western Storm.
“She’s just bamboozled quite a few people, hopefully she won’t change what she does”
Those performances, followed by her display in the final of the inaugural competition – which was hurriedly arranged after The Hundred and the ECB’s planned new women’s regional 50-over competition were postponed – didn’t necessarily surprise those close to Taylor.
While commentators and opposition players were flummoxed by her style, Edwards knew what Taylor was capable of, given her powers of deception and her accuracy.
“She just bowls arm-balls basically but she bowls with an off-spin action so everyone’s expecting it to turn into them but they actually just slide away from the right-hander, but she does actually get the odd one to turn back and that’s why she’s quite difficult to play,” Edwards says.
“She bowls a very tight line and a really lovely action and she’s just bamboozled quite a few people. Hopefully she won’t change what she does.”
While Taylor was probably the most surprised by her performance in the final, she credits the faith and backing she has received from Edwards in recent years playing for Hampshire Women with giving her self-belief on the biggest stage she has experienced.
“I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and luckily it’s come off,” Taylor says. “What happened [in the final], I can’t really believe it’s happened to be perfectly honest. For a lot of people it was a bit of a surprise – for me as well – so it’s nice to get that exposure.
“Some of the people I was getting out, you know that they’re really good players, you play against them for years so you back yourself a bit more because you’re actually getting really good players out.”
Taylor dismissed Diamonds opener Hollie Armitage, Alex MacDonald, Jenny Gunn and Bess Heath. She also had Beth Langston out lbw before Netherlands international Sterre Kalis became her sixth wicket, caught at mid-on after a fighting 55 which gave the Diamonds some hope.
Taylor, who works in customer service for an aerospace company supplying parts such as flight recorders for helicopters, took a familiar path into cricket, following her father, grandfather and uncle into the sport.
She played boys’ and men’s cricket where she lived in Hampshire’s New Forest before moving to Winchester to join Hursley Ladies as a teenager, then started playing for Hampshire Women, and she was initially known for her batting.
It wasn’t until she snapped her cruciate ligament while turning for a second run playing a men’s match, that she fell, literally, into bowling proper. Going ahead with plans to play club cricket in Hobart just weeks after suffering the injury, she “bowled off a couple of steps” there. Upon returning to England, she underwent surgery and a long rehab, during which time she felt her best way back into the Hampshire frame was with the ball.
“I was out of the game for about two years and I needed to find a way back into the side,” says Taylor, who moved to Southampton to be nearer the Ageas Bowl training facilities. “I knew we had good strength in our batting so I focused on my bowling as another aspect that I could improve on.
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“One training session, Lottie [Edwards] just caught an eye of a couple of balls as I was bowling and I think she thought, ‘this is a bit interesting,’ and it all just went from there. Getting back into that Hampshire side was a massive thing for me after that injury because I had no confidence.”
So how does she explain her action?
“I used to bowl seam-up deliveries when I was younger and obviously I’m not the tallest, so I wasn’t getting very much pace or bounce or things that fast bowlers strive for,” Taylor says. “So I just tried my hand at trying to spin the ball.
“I think that’s what helps me is that I’m very different from lots of spinners. I get this natural drift away from the batter, but can put it on a spot that’s very difficult for them to play with that movement.
“I don’t necessarily have to work on it as such, I just have to keep it consistent. Not giving all my secrets away, I don’t necessarily try and do an awful lot, I try and keep it very simple and I think that can be very effective in the women’s game.”
Edwards says “there was something about her that I really liked” and she believes the RHF Trophy has given players like Taylor a valuable opportunity.
“She’s very talented and I feel like this is where the system has let down someone like Charlotte,” Edwards says. “If Charlotte Taylor was 15 now, and had all the education the young girls have now, who knows where Charlotte Taylor could have been?
“I feel like the system has let those 25, 26 year-olds down if I’m honest. That’s why I feel so happy for someone like her – and Adams as well – they’re that age where they haven’t had all the resources that a lot of these players get now. But they’ve got wonderful character and I think that’s a big thing for me as a coach. I love players with character, who stand up and who want to be there and train incredibly hard.
“With Charlotte, I saw someone who’s desperate to play at the next level, wanted to always get better. When she came to training she was always asking questions of me, always wanted to do extra sessions, she always turned up. She has a huge passion for the game.”
Taylor hopes she has “done enough to play in the competition again” in whatever form it takes in the future.
“An unbelievable tournament to be involved in,” Taylor says. “I’ve never been involved in professional cricket before. It does give you a real flavour of the support that you get. It’s really fantastic.
“It was a very good final, it kept going up and down throughout the whole day so to get that sort of exposure was fantastic. I just hope that I can get another opportunity next year to have another go in the trophy and, you know, who knows what can happen.”
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