Beaumont, Taylor and Bristol warmth for England

The main road serving the Bristol County Ground is Gloucester Road, a much graffitied 2.5km stretch of staunchly independent businesses and local trade. It snakes downhill into the Stokes Croft area – the canvas for Banksy and other paint-wielding political commentators who decry high street stores, corporate greed and environment degradation; where the hipsters and the homeless are both welcomed with the same enthusiastic offer of hot (organic/sustainable/vegan) soup.

This area of Bristol respects its – maybe the word isn’t misfits – the alternatively inclined. The characters. The ones with the big ideas and the bigger hearts.

I sit, for instance, writing this piece in a cooperative cafe whose ‘vision statement’ is “creating inspiring safe places to cultivate community cooperation and cake”. So far it’s three on three.

On Wednesday (July 5), this ethos of inspiration, of originality, of safe spaces, goodness and good cheer for a fellow person’s work ethic and success, extended to the England v South Africa’s match at the ground.

At every milestone of their record-breaking 275-run partnership that set up a 68-run win, Tammy Beaumont, the England opener, embraced her partner, Sarah Taylor, in a bear hug. The warmth you felt was not just from the summer sun on the lawns.

Taylor’s battles with anxiety have been well documented. Her hundred, her first since 2013, was a chance to celebrate a talented batter, and a young woman who’s found reason to smile again. The team has backed her every step of her struggles, and given her the space and support to find herself again.

Beaumont’s three daddy centuries at the top of the order are the brightest examples of a skilful cricketer coming into her own when given the freedom and backing to express herself. In her first 23 One-Day Internationals, from 2009 to 2014, Beaumont made 207 runs. In her last 16 games, starting 2016, when she was encouraged to bat at the top of the order, she has accumulated 799.

“Anytime Sarah’s got a smile on her face it’s great to see,” said Beaumont, speaking for everyone. “And when she’s scoring runs in an England shirt, it’s even better. She certainly is adding to the team at the minute.”

Her own performance, Beaumont said, was one of her best. “It’s really nice to get that (record partnership) with Sarah. I’ve always enjoyed batting with her so it’s great to have that again.”

Beaumont stepped out to bat without the confidence of recent runs and against a bowling attack that had rolled over its opponent for 48 in the previous game. She began not fully comfortably, but grew into her game to sweetly time the ball. When she had neared fifty, which came off 72 balls, she was coming down the pitch to take on the bowlers.

“We knew the threat of their bowlers, but we also knew there was going to be a really good wicket here. We just had to absorb those first few overs of their bowlers,” she said.

Pace on the ball worked well for her. Her innings’ second fifty took 46 deliveries, while the final 48 runs came off a mere 27 balls.

“I’m going to be one of those people that say they don’t believe in form,” she said, of her modest scores coming into this game. “Maybe I hadn’t got the scores that I wanted, but in the nets, I’d still been striking the ball exactly how I wanted to. I just hadn’t got in yet. Obviously, I’d got out to a few rubbish shots, which is cricket. I had a good chat with Robbo (Mark Robinson, the coach). He said, ‘We all know you’re a still a really good player. We all know you’re due a big score.’ And it came today.”

Taylor, meanwhile, coming off a strong fifty, was attacking from the start and pierced through gaps in the field. Never hesitating to move at the crease, sideways or forward, she threw off the bowlers’ lines and put herself in good positions to bring out all the cute shots. Innovative flicks and paddles and ramp shots were sent over her shoulders, teasing the wicketkeeper but never quite in reach.

While Beaumont was strong straight down the ground and square of the wicket when she went fine, Taylor dominated the leg side and the third-man region. Together, they hit 46 fours and one six.

Marizanne Kapp was welcomed into the batting Power Play with three boundaries square of the wicket. Shabnim Ismail got to wrap up the period with a string of five fours on leg and down the ground. A tough chance on the edge of the circle was perhaps the only opening England gave South Africa.

When the partnership was finally ended in the 47th over, there was a long ovation for the duo, with the South Africans too offering their congratulations. Beaumont also got a friendly kick and a wry smile from Kapp.

“I don’t think we bowled to our plans,” rued Dane van Niekerk. “We had a hard look at Sarah and Tammy (before the game) – Sarah is quite strong on the leg side and Tammy is quite strong square. And if you look at the first 20 overs, all the boundaries were scored there.

“I don’t think we executed our plans well. That was the most disappointing thing for me – I don’t mind if you get hit, but get hit to your field … We adapted too slow and they were well into their partnership by then and were seeing the ball as if it was a volleyball!”

Ahead of this game, Heather Knight, the England captain, had explained how Taylor’s personal progress was a day-by-day thing. There could be “a few bumps along the way”, she had cautioned.

“It’s been a lot of hard work from her part, a lot of hard work from the coaching staff and all the players,” said Knight. “We try to look after each other and hopefully get the best of each other on the pitch.”

Wednesday was another case of England looking after their own. And just as the city of Bristol has found out, everyone has their differences and quirks and ideas; the community that embraces it and celebrates it is the one that leaves the door open for everyone’s success.

This article first appeared in Wisden India.

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