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By Nadia T. Gruny
Effortless hitting. Beautiful cover drives here; a potent flick there. A tall six over mid-wicket and a flat, hard six over long on. Stafanie Taylor, or Stef, as she is more affectionately known, brought the curtains down on a recently concluded women's T20 tournament in Atlanta, Georgia on Memorial Day weekend.
For Atlantis Cricket Club, she was the icing on the cake as she steered the team home with 64 not out off 36 balls in the 121 run-chase to defeat the Atlantic Region's Lady Eagles. The Atlanta crowd got a glimpse of why Stafanie is the 2012 ICC Women's ODI Cricketer of the Year. What they may not have seen from the previous day's games is that her love for the game and women's cricket development transcend her cricketing prowess.
Photo: Stafanie Taylor teaching Akshatha Rao a few off-spin bowling tricks. (Photo Credit: Nadia Gruny)
The international star led the warm-ups, did the 12th man duties, motivated the women, advised players, and fulfilled photo and autograph requests from her fans - all with the most pleasant demeanor. Anyone who has had the chance to interact with Stafanie would tell you that her personality and humility is even more endearing than her classy shots. Stafanie has been in the US on vacation but never took a rest from being an ambassador for cricket. She donned the Puma sneakers and helped anyone requesting her guidance.
"I like to help. I am here and I'm available, so use me," she said to some of the players in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Stafanie took the time to coach women of varying ages and skill levels of the Northern California Cricket Association. She even braved the cold, windy night conditions of San Francisco city to coach one keen USA national player, Akshatha Rao.
“Training with Stafanie really helped me understand the intensity and the technique required to improve my cricketing skills. She was very detailed in her explanations, demonstrated them well and gave me good feedback after every ball. Playing alongside her and watching her bat is an inspiration. It really makes me want to work harder on improving my game and doing everything I need to do to get to that level,” Akshatha said in her reflection on training with Stef.
Such was the effect of Stafanie’s presence. Akshatha isn’t alone in her sentiments. I also saw first-hand what standard is possible for a woman cricketer. Seeing her perform up close gave me a really good gauge of where I am as a player and how far I can go. I enjoyed my share of cricketing bliss with Stef as I had the opportunity to bat alongside her and witness the onslaught she took to the bowlers. She is as solid as it gets and there is no mistake when you see her bat that she is in a league of her own. I couldn't help but grin when she blasted those sixes.
Photo: Stafanie Taylor with women of the Northern California Cricket Association at the Cricket Strike Zone. (Photo Credit: Nadia Gruny)
For Stafanie, it was no smiling matter - she maintained her laser focus as if playing in an international match. She left no runs on the field and ensured that I got every single I could steal. We turned ones into twos, and twos into threes. I often found myself running out of breath, and in some cases, the threat of being overlapped was near.
For a 21 year-old, she bears the label of a world-class player with such ease. She is a sponsor's dream athlete, recognizing that her work does not end on the field. But to her, this is no added pressure because this is who she is - an individual with great character, discipline, and values abound. After spending time with Stafanie and absorbing the knowledge she shared, Akshatha and I thought it useful to ask her a few questions that others may want to ask her as well.
Tell us about your training routine, what does your training routine look like?
I like to do some sprints outdoors, abdominal work, and a bit of gym work.
What is a Stafanie Taylor-approved diet?
Grilled chicken salad and rice or ground provision. I don’t drink juices and sodas…anything with processed sugar.
What's your favorite exercise?
I love to stretch, especially the hamstring.
How does your on and off-season workout differ?
They’re not much different. You get a program to follow and you work from there. It’s all about what you need to work on. Off season you have more time to work on your weak areas. So, if you need to lose fat and become stronger, you get a program for that and work towards it.
Give us some insights into your success, why do you think you perform so consistently?
I think for me it’s keeping that mental focus on what to do. That’s all.
What would you say are the keys to your success?
Consistency, concentration, determination, discipline.
What's the weight of your bat?
2.7. You guys’ bats are heavier than mine.
How do you prepare mentally for a game?
Listen to some songs and visualize the game.
How do you bounce back from failure in an innings or maybe a string of matches?
By accepting my failure and moving on. You just have to change what you’ve done before and do something different.
How do you handle nervousness in a match?
I think about something other than being nervous but really, I think about what I know I can do well.
Who is the best bowler you've faced?
I would say (Katherine) Brunt.
What advice would you give to a beginner or a club cricketer wanting to raise her game?
If you love the game keep playing and keep working hard. Nothing comes easy.
The 3rd Annual Atlanta T20 tournament.
How was the experience for you?
It was a good experience - I enjoyed it. It was different. Climate and atmosphere were different. The vibes were good. I also got to meet fellow Caribbean people.
What do you see as the positives out of this tournament and your participation?
It was competitive and the players enjoyed it. Me being there, I think that some players worked really hard.
Stafanie visited the US in a personal capacity but still managed to impact women cricketers from coast to coast. Her presence, influence, and participation have encouraged women cricketers to work harder. The many witnesses in Georgia can confirm that there are indeed no camera tricks when she creams those cover drives on television. They look even more impressive in person.
As Stafanie says, the difference between West Indies and more successful teams is the fact that the latter has more playing experience. Hopefully, this experience will encourage women cricket clubs in the US to lead the effort in organizing bi-lateral tours with Caribbean clubs.
[Nadia Gruny is a member of the USA Women's National Team]