Southern Vipers’ Charlotte Taylor speaks to Taha Hashim about her own take on off-spin, an unforgettable six-for and the dream to go pro.
On paper, Charlotte Taylor is a right-arm off-break bowler. Conventional wisdom would therefore tell us this: that the stock ball will pitch and turn away from the left-hander to threaten the outside edge.
Taylor, however, has played around with the job spec. “I’m not a natural turner of a cricket ball,” she says. “I don’t have height on my side, so I predominantly bowl ‘arm balls’, we would say – without giving too much away. It gives me a point of difference from your average off-spinner.”
Instead of spin, accuracy and – crucially – drift are her greatest friends when she lets the ball fly, and that was evident in the inaugural final of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy last year. Taylor took figures of 6-34 against Northern Diamonds to help Southern Vipers to the title and finish as the leading wicket-taker in the tournament. Sharp turn didn’t feature in the highlights reel but the off-spinner’s unorthodox methods did – Alex MacDonald hit her own stumps to depart for a first-baller after a Taylor delivery pitched outside off and darted in to the left-hander.
Even illness wasn’t to get in the way of her day out. “It was freezing in the final, I can tell you that,” says the 27-year-old. “It was absolutely freezing, and I actually had tonsillitis. I really wasn’t very well the night before. My tonsils felt huge, I could barely speak, but I knew I had a job to do for my team and we knew we had a final to win.
“I didn’t ever expect I was going to take six wickets – I don’t think anyone thinks that they’re going to take six wickets in a final. But I had the strong belief that I could be a match-winner.”
An unexpected performance by an unconventional spinner who has only recently got to grips with her craft. Hailing from New Milton in Hampshire, Taylor debuted for her home county in 2010 and regularly opened the batting prior to suffering an ACL injury that led to a two-year absence from the game. She missed the entirety of Hampshire’s County Championship-winning season in 2018 and focused on what she could offer with the ball to break back into the side.
“When I came back from my injury, I knew that to get back into a very successful Hampshire team, I needed to do something differently, and I thought my bowling was going to get me back in over my batting at that time. We had a really strong batting group, so that’s what I focused on, to get my way back into the side through that.”
Taylor returned to action for Hampshire in 2019, but her entry into the Vipers set-up wasn’t straightforward. It wasn’t until the third game of the RHF Trophy that Taylor was brought into the squad and handed a debut, but figures of 2-13 in a win over South East Stars set her up for the four games that followed and a final tally of 15 wickets at an average of 10.13. “I started the competition with two wickets and some really tight bowling and I just proved to myself on that day that I can do the same things I was doing at my club three weeks previous and do it at a higher level.
“In the last couple of years I’ve figured out my bowling and how to control it and maximise my skill, and focused more on that. I used to open the batting for Hampshire years ago but that’s taken more of a backseat now, and I’m focusing solely on my bowling. That’s the way I’m going to go forward now because I know that’s my point of difference in potentially getting a Hundred contract in the future, which is where I’d like to take my game, and a Vipers full-time contract if that was available.”
Those lines point to the new world of domestic women’s cricket, with the ECB introducing 41 new full-time contracts last year and the incoming 100-ball competition providing further opportunities. Taylor herself currently has a full-time customer service role with a company in the aerospace industry, a work environment which is very supportive of her on-field efforts. “I have a really nice team there and they know my cricket comes first. My manager knows that my cricket is a priority for me. He was aware of that when he hired me. He’s like my No.1 fan. I had a game on Sunday and I go in the next day on Monday and he’s like: ‘Did you get any wickets? How many runs did you get?’” When Taylor returned to work after her Player-of-the-Match performance in the RHF Trophy final, her desk was decorated with pictures of her from the game as well as a cake.
This was my desk this morning at work. I am overwhelmed by the amount of support from everyone! Thank you, I am so grateful ❤️ pic.twitter.com/MSd0W1FCCD
— Charlotte Taylor (@Tayz02) September 29, 2020
Still, the cricketing dream lives on. “When you’re a kid growing up, you just want to play cricket all the time and that hasn’t really changed for me. If I had the opportunity to have that as my job, then I’d have to grab it.”
For now, the focus is on the upcoming season, with the RHF Trophy getting underway on May 29 and the regional T20 tournament kicking off at the end of June. Taylor is in the Vipers’ squad of 18 for 2021 and like any bowler with a bit of mystery, the task is to keep batters across the country guessing. “I had one of the best seasons of my life but I want to be able to back that up this year.
“The more our games are live-streamed, people can see not just me but every bowler… No doubt there’ll be players that are looking at my action and how to combat that. I’m ready for the challenge.”