Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

England cricketer Sarah Taylor opens up about her mental health issues after missing November’s World T20

Posted on 7 January 2019 by Peter White

It is now over a month since England suffered a heavy, eight-wicket defeat to Australia in the Women’s World T20 final.

Despite ultimate disappointment that the side couldn’t add the Twenty20 title to their World Cup win in the 50-over format a year earlier, it was generally felt that Heather Knight’s largely inexperienced team performed commendably on their run to the runners-up spot.

One of the key absentees in the West Indies was Sarah Taylor. The two-time ICC Women’s T20I Cricketer of the Year missed the tournament as part of the ongoing management of her anxiety.

Taylor took a break from cricket in 2016 due to her struggles. While she returned to play in England’s triumphant World Cup campaign in 2017, she missed the tour of India at the start of 2018 and announced at the end of September that she wasn’t going to travel for the T20 tournament in the West Indies.

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England were runners-up in the West Indies after an eight-wicket defeat defeat to Australia in the World T20 final.

Reflecting on the decision, Taylor admitted it was a bittersweet feeling being sat at home while the rest of the squad were out competing.

She said: “At the time I was absolutely gutted, but I see now why it was probably the best thing for me. There was relief that I wasn’t there dealing with all of the anxiety problems, but at the same time I was missing the cricket.

“It was quite tough watching, seeing both their successes and losses and not being a part of it. I did get swept up in it — I had proper fangirl moments.”

Taylor agrees that there were plenty of positives to take from England’s campaign, and is quick to acknowledge the performance of her replacement as wicket keeper — Amy Jones — who was named in the ICC team of the tournament after scoring 107 runs and making five dismissals.

She said: “I think we did pretty well. Obviously we didn’t go out there with a full strength squad — it was very young and inexperienced — but we still managed to make the final of a World Cup.

“Amy Jones did herself complete justice. Regardless of keeping, she’s justified her place in the team as a batter too.”

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England wicket keeper Amy Jones — Taylor’s replacement at the World T20 — was named in the ICC team of the tournament.

Another key absentee from the squad was Katherine Brunt, who missed out with a back injury. While Taylor’s issues are associated with mental health, England head coach Mark Robinson has made it clear that such issues are to be approached in the same way as any physical injury.

So, while it is hard to argue that England would have fared better with Taylor in the team, despite Jones’ strong performance, she simply wasn’t fit, just as Brunt wasn’t.

“Mark Robinson made the decision. He basically told me I wasn’t going,” Taylor said.

“It’s about trying to do the right thing for the player when it comes to their health, whether it be a back injury — someone like Katherine’s a good example — or a mental injury.”

After helping England to World Cup glory in 2017 and Surrey Stars to the Kia Super League (KSL) title this summer, Taylor is open about the factors that were considered when it was decided that she wouldn’t take part.

She said: “We take one tour at a time so I had the KSL to get through after quite a long 2017. I think I was burnt out from the summer mentally and to try and confront those mental issues in a completely different country is a lot harder.

“Away tours are always going to be harder for me, for travel reasons. I like flying and I’m fine with the turbulence, it’s knowing that I can’t get off if there’s a problem and if I’m having a panic attack I’ve got nowhere to go.

“Aeroplanes — especially internal flights — are horrendous in hot countries and even coaches are difficult. It’s basically the fear of having a panic attack that causes a panic attack, annoyingly.”

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Taylor helped Surrey Stars claim the their maiden KSL title in the summer.

Taylor explains that certain countries pose greater challenges than others when it comes to dealing with her anxiety. As the first woman to play first-grade men’s cricket in Australia, she has spent long periods over there during her career. She competed in the Ashes Down Under in 2017, but didn’t travel to India or the West Indies in 2018.

She said: “I’m definitely more comfortable over there [in Australia]. It’s just like England really isn’t it, just a bit warmer.

“I ended up having a car over there so I could drive wherever I wanted and that made my life easier. The heat is a struggle because it feels a bit like the start of a panic attack, but I’ve been doing a lot of work over the last few years to try and combat that, and it’s going OK.

“India’s probably the pinnacle — if you’re going to test your anxiety that’s probably top of the food chain.”

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Taylor became the first woman to play first-grade Australian men’s cricket when she appeared for Northern Districts against Port Adelaide in 2015.

Taylor enjoyed a lot of success at a young age, becoming the youngest female cricketer to score 1,000 runs in ODIs in 2008, winning the Ashes in 2008, and the World Cup and World T20 in 2009 to name just a few achievements.

Now 29, she explained that anxiety is something that she has always suffered with, but the management of it became more difficult when she realised exactly what it was, which led to her walking away from cricket in 2016.

She said: “I think I was probably better off when I didn’t know. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I had a feeling that my nerves were a bit stronger than anyone else’s and it got to a point where I thought I’d had something dodgy the night before and I was feeling a bit ill.

“Once I knew what it was I was then looking out for it again. Once you’re looking for it, that then causes it. That’s why I ended up taking the year out, because I got horrendous.”

Since returning to cricket, Taylor is now a lot more positive about how to manage her anxiety and is realistic about what she will be able to handle going forward.

“It’s been a massive learning curve in terms of self-awareness. I’ve had to learn why I’m feeling a certain way in different situations and what I’m thinking rationally and irrationally,” she said.

“I can deal with it a lot easier now; you just have to pick and choose what situations you put yourself in. I’m a complete perfectionist, but the coaches know that and do a good job in keeping me grounded.

“There are certain things that I can’t do, because it’s that safe place aspect. On an away tour it’s hard to go out for dinner and go to new places. I’m quite sociable at the start of a tour, but as the tour progresses you get mentally drained.

“But you’ve just got to find the right things to switch off mentally. You’ve got Netflix, or I’ll have a puzzle book, or I’ll just sit with the girls. It can even be skyping the niece and nephew.”

Following her break from cricket, Taylor is more positive about dealing with her anxiety going forward. Copyright – John Heald

Family is clearly very important to Taylor when it comes to addressing and overcoming her problems.

She said: “Family’s a massive one for me. My brother suffers as well, so we kind of all rally round and get through it together.

“My sister’s a massive driver — I have to have some level of exposure to my anxiety whether it be getting on a bus or a coach and she’s very much like, ‘come on, we’re getting on a train today’.”

Taylor has always been very open about her troubles since announcing she had issues with anxiety back in 2016. She still feels it’s important to be honest to help other sufferers deal with their issues, while she explained that the response from her teammates, the public and the media has helped her get to where she is today.

She said: “At the time of the announcement there were lots of questions because it said I was absent due to personal reasons. I was like, ‘that doesn’t sit well with me, I’d rather be open and people know that it’s OK and it can happen to anyone.’

“The majority of people I know have suffered with something similar in their lifetime, so it’s not uncommon at all. It’s also about trying to help people that don’t suffer to understand, there’s even talk of potentially writing a book.

“Robbo [Mark Robinson] has been brilliant. He’s quite experienced in this. The girls have been amazing. They know when I’m in trouble and when I need help and knowing that makes my life easier. If they had taken it badly then I’d probably not be playing any more.

“I get thanks all the time and I think the best way to prove that it’s okay is to succeed. So if I’m out there performing well — even just being out there really — a lot of people appreciate that I do suffer but I’m still fighting.”

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Taylor has highlighted the prominent role England head coach Mark Robinson has had in helping her deal with her problems.

Having stayed at home during the World T20, Taylor is fit and raring to go ahead of the summer, and hopes to remain involved for many years to come.

She said: “All you do when you’re away from a tour is gym, so I’m as fit as I’ve ever been and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.

“Playing at home is a piece of cake. At one point, I couldn’t even see myself playing cricket again so to be able to say that is a massive step forwards. That’s why I’m quite optimistic about future away tours and hopefully soon, I’ll be able to conquer them quite easily.

“I always said I’d look to go to 34. That’s as long as I stay fit and has absolutely nothing to do with my mental health really. There’ll be some tours I can go on away from home and some that I won’t be able to, but we’ll just decide on a tour-by-tour basis. You never know, I might be able to go to the Big Bash at some point, or I could be kicking it large in a new IPL.”

England fans will be hoping that Taylor can stay fit and ultimately help England get one back over arch-rivals Australia by regaining the Ashes in July after June’s series against the West Indies.

Featured photograph/John Heald/