Born July 17, 1941, Robert William ‘Bob’ Taylor is a former England wicketkeeper and one of the all-time best in the art. Taylor was born in Stoke-on-Trent. As a schoolboy, he developed keen interest in wicketkeeping and kept wickets on the cinder car park adjoining Stoke City FC’s ground near his home. A child prodigy, Taylor was in the school Under-15s at the age of 12. By the time he turned 15, he was playing for Bignall End in the North Staffs and South Cheshire League and he stated playing for Staffordshire in the minor Counties before he was 16.
When Taylor arrived for his debut against Shropshire, the gateman did not allow the youngster into the ground despite the cricket bag. It was only after a player vouched for him that he was let inside the ground. Those days, Taylor played in black shoes, gray trousers, and pads that came up to his chest. During another game, he was asked by the groundsman: “Have you got a box on, lad?” Taylor had to admit he had not; in reality, he did not even know what a “box” was!
A trendsetter of sorts, Taylor would stand up to the bowlers, even the quicker ones, in early days. And even though he did a commendable job behind the stumps, he was generally criticised by experts and the bowlers for standing up to the stumps and missing the occasional edges. They all had never seen anything like this.
In 1964, Taylor suffered from a knee injury and had to miss out on seven First-Class games. He even lied about his injury at that point of time. He told Derbyshire CCC that he had slipped on an escalator while it actually occurred when he was playing football. While he was out of the side, his County gave parting ways with him for good a brief thought. His replacement Laurie Johnson had done well, especially with the bat, but a determined Taylor made a comeback. The experience taught him to pay attention to physical fitness.
Taylor made his Test debut at the age of 30 against New Zealand. But it was restricted to a solitary appearance, as England’s first-choice ’keeper Knott was back for the second Test. Thereafter, Taylor kept travelling with the side but never got to play. He remained Knott’s understudy till World Series Cricket changed things.
His exceptional performance on the County circuit in 1976-77 made him a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1977.
At 36, Taylor probably did not think of a Test return. But Kerry Packer came to his rescue as former England captain Tony Greig convinced Knott to join World Series Cricket, thus opening the doors for Taylor’s comeback. He did not look back from here and went on to play for seven more years, adding 56 more Test caps.
Taylor holds quite a few First-Class records. His 1,649 First-Class victims remain a world record. In addition, his 1,220 victims (1,085 catches and 135 stumpings) also make him top the County Championship charts. He also holds all major records for Derbyshire, as he is the only one to scalp 7 victims in an innings for them (he has done it twice), besides holding the record for most victims in a match (10); and is the only one to have gone past the 80-victim mark for them in a season thrice (in 1962, 1963, and 1965). His tally of 60 victims off Ian Botham’s bowling is still an England record for most dismissals by a bowler-wicketkeeper pair. Taylor also shares Wasim Bari’s world record of taking 7 catches in the innings. The feat has subsequently been levelled by Ian Smith and Ridley Jacobs, but not beaten.
Taylor got his favour returned in the Jubilee Test against India in 1980. Batting first, India scored 242 and reduced England to 58 for 5. This was when Taylor joined Botham and began the rescue work. When the team score read 141, he was declared caught by the umpire. Taylor was not convinced and protested, as a result of which, Indian captain Gundappa Viswanath recalled him in the act of genuine sportsmanship. As things happened, Taylor and Botham added 88 more runs and helped England take a vital lead. India were bowled out for 149 in the second innings and went on to lose the Test by 10 wickets.
Taylor has been a part of the only Test where a side used four wicketkeepers. After his retirement in 1986, when New Zealand were touring England, he was called in to keep wickets after the keeper Bruce French suffered a head injury and subsequent concussions. He was called after Mike Gatting took special permission to do so and once he arrived, a relieved Gatting said, “thank goodness you’ve come”. However, till he arrived, Bill Athey kept wickets, thus becoming third player to keep wickets in the match. Hampshire’s Bobby Parks became the fourth and the final ’keeper to keep wickets in the match.
Taylor is widely regarded as one of the best and most complete wicketkeepers in the history of the game. Wisden noted while acknowledging his achievements in 1976-77 as the Cricketer of the Year by writing, “artistry — there is no other word for it — behind the stumps has long illumined even the darkest hours of Derbyshire cricket.” He was known both for his acrobatic fielding behind the stumps and his fitness. If only he were to be born in some other era, he would not have to face competition from Knott and have played more for England.