@reverse_sweeper 3 minute read
Scott Oliver meets Neil Taylor, a record-breaking seamer from the south coast who can count a couple of West Indian kingpins among his victims.
First published in issue 28 of Wisden Cricket Monthly
“Viv was the wicket I was most proud of,” says Neil Taylor, the Southern League’s (SCL) all-time leading wicket-taker, recalling an outing for Minor Counties against the touring West Indians in 1991 in which he scored 52 not out from No.11, albeit primarily against Brian Lara’s leg-spin. “In context, Viv batted No.9. I bowled a wide half-volley that he poked to point and I just stood there with my mouth open, thinking: ‘I’ve got Viv Richards out!’”
It wasn’t the only big wicket in the former Dorset seamer’s career. A year earlier he dismissed Mohammad Azharuddin, his maiden first-class scalp, and in 1989 claimed the twin opening pillars of Australia’s World Cup winning side, Boon and Marsh, the latter for 110 having not walked for an earlier nick. Growing up in coastal Hampshire, between Bournemouth and Lymington, Taylor had learned all about the ‘English Channel’.
After a season playing alongside his father in New Milton’s thirds, his first-team debut came in 1979, aged 15. He spent 20 years there, heading the league’s wicket charts three times, including in 1987 when New Milton achieved their best-ever finish of second place. That same year he began a six-year Dorset career, the highlight of which was a spell of 10-4-9-2 that helped see off Cambridgeshire in the 1988 Minor Counties Knockout final to secure the county’s first trophy after 86 years of trying.
In 1989 Taylor played the first of 14 games for the Minor Counties’ Benson & Hedges Cup side, finishing the campaign with an economy rate of under three while knocking over the likes of England opener Tim Robinson and Somerset’s South African run-machine, Jimmy Cook (“a massive hack across the line”). A strong performance of 11-2-26-2 against Middlesex in 1990, including the prize scalp of Desmond Haynes, earned him a short stint in the county’s Sunday League side as injury cover for Angus Fraser and Ricky Ellcock. “I played three times at Lord’s, and they even paid me to do it. I’d have paid them!”
Taylor would also make a solitary County Championship appearance that year alongside the likes of Gatting, Haynes, Ramprakash, Tufnell and Emburey, taking 3-44 for the eventual champions against Hampshire at Bournemouth’s Dean Park.
It was at the same venue a year later, playing for Dorset in the NatWest Trophy, that Taylor nipped out both Lancashire openers en route to figures of 12-2-25-2 before a memorable encounter with Wasim Akram. “The bloke before me, Alan Willows, slogged him into the crowd by the pavilion, so Wasim went to his full run-up, got him out next ball, and that brought me in. He used to run up behind the umpire – you knew he was coming but couldn’t really see him − before darting out. First ball hit me flush on the helmet and the nut on the far side of my grille flew off. I ran a leg-bye, but I never even saw it.”
The arrival of his son in 1992 brought the curtain down on Taylor’s Dorset career. He played on at New Milton, but in 1999, worn down by his responsibilities, moved a couple of miles up the road to Bashley Rydal, on the fringes of the New Forest, where his brother-in-law was club captain. “I was already bowling flat, non-turning off-breaks by then. I stopped bowling seamers at 32 because I was knackered.”
Latterly, those flat offies have brought more wickets for Bashley Second XI – 250 to add to the 710 first-team victims and 8,450 SCL runs − where he’s “at least 25 years older than anyone else”. And he regularly turns out for Hampshire over 50s, although admits the end is now looming into view.
“I’m a bit worried what I’m going to do when I stop,” he says. “I’ve promised the wife I’m not going to play when I’m 60, so I reckon I’ve got four seasons left…” Plenty of time to nudge his record 960 wickets up to four figures, then.
First published in issue 28 of Wisden Cricket Monthly. You can subscribe to Wisden Cricket Monthly here.