There was a time in English cricket where a ground committee would assemble over small sherry in an oak-panelled boardroom to select the England XI to play on their facilities. Political agendas, personal crusades and plain old bias resulted in some peculiar choices. It could be argued James Taylor has been the victim of similar practice in the past two years but his case for Test selection must surely now catch the attention regardless of preconceptions.
Taylor has previously built his case in the background. A promising youngster at Leicestershire, he became a serious contender for international duty after moving to Nottinghamshire. A steady stream of runs have been made in the County Championship and for the England Lions. Here, his first-class best 242 was a major innings with all eyes upon him. Taylor has slammed his CV on the desk of the selectors. And he should not leave the room until he is picked.
Taylor is ready for a return to Test cricket. At just 24 he has played over 100 first-class matches and competitive cricket in a variety of conditions around the world. He has made runs everywhere, too, and now holds five first-class double-centuries.
Taylor admitted before this tour that he had given the selectors leeway to not pick him because he had not gone above and beyond the players in the Test side. His tour of Sri Lanka began in that mould with two attractive half-centuries in six innings. But this was an innings no-one can fudge. He made a century and then feasted merrily on his chance to turn an impressive score into one that marks him out a different class of player. Graham Gooch, Mr Daddy Hundred himself, approved from the boundary.
He has hooked admirers in for a while. But England have kept him at arm's length. Brought in for his Test debut in August 2012, he hardly looked out of place against a strong South Africa attack but was not selected for the India tour. Last summer he was the player on standby for Kevin Pietersen - and made a century against the Australians for Sussex - but despite also averaging a healthy 46.25 in the Championship was not included in the Ashes party. He averaged 60 in Australian club cricket instead, also getting the chance to work with Mickey Arthur.
He was in complete control on the third day. The previous afternoon he had Sam Robson for company as a fellow Test candidate made his own century; building an innings as the junior partner is a calm place from which to play. Twenty-four hours later, Taylor was in full focus, his timing at its peak, knocking Sri Lanka A all over Dambulla and when England declared they had a lead of over 300.
He slept on 99 but struck the first ball of the day to bring up his century, and also transpired to hold off the second ovation until after tea, taking the interval on 199. His final two runs of the session came via a nervy leading edge through cover. He had played few scoring strokes in the second hour after lunch as he lost some of the momentum that had hitherto seen fluid accumulation. Most of his runs came forcing the agenda - three times skipping down the pitch to lift the spinners to the wide long-on boundary.
The double century stowed away, Taylor played with complete freedom. So completely at one with the ball being delivered at him, he hit it everywhere, the pick of the strokes being a lofted extra-cover drive for six. Consecutive reserve sweeps brought up England's 600; a third for a single saw them declare with a monumental lead.
Liam Plunkett was a large part of the blitz of 76 runs in seven overs after tea, having done his level best to give Taylor the chance to bring up his double before the break. Plunkett is a very capable batsman and flourished here with licence to play he strokes. Three crisp strikes sailed for six, including a peach over long-on.
But the reality of taking another 10 wickets dawned in the 21 overs Sri Lanka A faced before the close. Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne enjoyed the easiest conditions for opening batsman so far in the series. This pitch is exceptionally good. Too good for a four-day match. It is unlikely to deteriorate to provide England's spinners with much assistance on the final day.
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