A prodigy who appeared to have finally broken through at international level, James Taylor found his career cruelly curtailed at the age of 26 when he was diagnosed with an incurable heart condition. Taylor had played a full part in England's 2015-16 Test series win in South Africa but just a few months later, in the opening week of the County Championship, he was forced to retire with immediate effect due to ARVC (Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy), the same condition that affected footballer Fabrice Muamba.
During an eight-year career in which he scored a glut of runs across all three formats, Taylor was out to prove that when it comes to cricket size isn't everything. Players diminutive in stature have had excellent international careers - Shiv Chanderpaul is just one example of that - but when Taylor made his Test debut against South Africa at Headingley in 2012, even his batting partner, Kevin Pietersen, expressed his misgivings. Pietersen twice told England's coach at the time, Andy Flower, that Taylor should not have been selected. "I have nothing against James but at 5ft 6ins he's one of the shortest men currently playing county cricket," Pietersen wrote in his autobiography. "His dad was a jockey and James is built for the same gig. We were facing the fiercest attack in world cricket; I didn't think he was up for it."
Taylor's response to such trenchant criticism was impressively modest of temper and even more persuasive in terms of performance. He just made runs: lots of them. He averaged 73 in 2013 and 88 in 2014 in domestic one-day cricket as he waited for almost two years for England to select him again after that South Africa series. He proved his ability to score runs in pressure situations on the county circuit, his ability to manipulate the ball and scurry between the wickets occasionally joined by unexpected hitting power. His ability to judge the pace of an innings was excellent and his captaincy of Nottinghamshire in one-day cricket also won approval. Finally, he was selected for a one-day tour of Sri Lanka as England built towards the 2015 World Cup, the first sign that what he called "three years of frustrating phone calls" were coming to an end.
Finally, 2015 was a year of growth. He played in 25 out of a possible 30 ODIs, and struck a maiden ODI hundred against Australia at Old Trafford in which his ability to manoeuvre the ball into gaps was once again again central to his approach. His red-ball record was not as impressive - five Championship hundreds in his first four seasons for Nottinghamshire - but that was pushed aside as he made 76 in a Test recall against Pakistan in Sharjah where even he could remark that the ball rarely bounced above knee height.
Taylor made runs from a young age. He represented England Under-19s, including at the 2008 World Cup, having progressed from Minor Counties cricket with Shropshire on his route to Leicestershire via the Worcestershire academy and second XI. A prolific 2009 season earned him the Cricket Writers' Club Young Player of the Year award. He scored heavily first at Leicestershire and then after moving to Nottinghamshire. England, though, took a while to be convinced, concerned not just about his stature but also a strong leg-side game that occasionally exposed him defensively.
He scored 3689 runs in 53 first-class matches for Leicestershire, at an average of 49.18, but was advised he needed to play first division cricket to advance his career and moved to Nottinghamshire at the end of the 2011 season. It was a calculated risk as he was aware that Trent Bridge, one of the toughest examinations for a batsman in England, would put his technique under pressure. He marked his first-class debut with a first-ball duck followed by an unbeaten century against Loughborough MCCU.
Taylor made his debut in the second Test against South Africa after Ravi Bopara withdrew for personal reasons. He made 34 in a 147-run partnership with Pietersen, and looked comfortable enough doing it, helping to secure a draw for England in a match that turned to uproar when Pietersen hinted at problems in the dressing room that were soon to dramatically escalate. Taylor retained his place for the third Test but it was hardly the easiest time to make an impact and he was not picked for the tour of India. Illogical selection policies concerning England's performance squad - he was surprisingly omitted then added at a later date - caused further raised eyebrows.
He played just once in the following two-year period - an ODI against Ireland in Dublin - and was overlooked, too, for the 2013-14 Ashes tour, but Australia's 5-0 whitewash quickened up the break-up of an experienced England side and left him well placed to push his claims once more. That his opportunity finally came only for declining health to intervene was all the more unfortunate.