The fall and rise of Matt Prior

You may have noticed in the short life of this blog so far that we focus a little bit more than average on wicketkeeping, and that’s because as a keeper myself, I tend to have an eye on the bloke with the gloves more than the average punter. Largely our focus has been on whichever incarnation of an Akmal is watching the ball go whizzing to the boundary on that particular day, but in the Test series, the other (slightly) quieter keeper on show went largely unnoticed.

If you’re Matt Prior, largely unnoticed is what you want to be while wicketkeeping. Rather like a football referee, it shows you’re doing your job efficiently. The best wicketkeepers get noticed for their stunning catches and cat-like agility, but Matt (bless him) will never fall into the Jack Russell / Alan Knott category of keepers who could catch a speeding bullet if they had solid enough gloves. The worst wicketkeepers get noticed because of all the cock-ups. Therefore, unless you’re one of the supermen, slipping under the radar is definitely a Good Thing.

I wrote an article a few years ago in which I bemoaned the standard of Prior’s keeping (incidentally that article is referenced in the Wikipedia entry for Jack Russell, as I just have discovered to my shock and surprise). At the time, my point was absolutely valid – in the space of three Tests and five innings, the semi-bearded wonder had conceded 105 byes, and looked like he could barely have stopped the ball if it had been gently rolled in his direction. To put that in perspective, I conceded fewer byes all last season than Prior did in one innings (that was the Test where England played a Dane – remember that?), although I freely admit that I wasn’t keeping to Test match bowlers. Unfortunately. Jimmy and Stuey would be quite handy down at Hampstead…

In 2009 though, it seemed that the selectors were blindly doing what they’ve always done and choosing the better batsman at the expense of the better keeper. There’s a whole post to be written about the pros and cons of this policy and it’s just gone on my list of ones to do. Like it or not though, that West Indies series was a horror show for Prior in anybody’s eyes.

"Er, you're facing the wrong way there, Matt..."

I’ve wondered since whether I’ve been made to look a bit silly by that 2009 article, because pretty much since that nadir, Prior’s keeping has gone from strength to strength. So much so, that you barely notice him any more, which is about the highest accolade I can give him. He is now an extremely competent wicketkeeper, and I might even go so far as to say that he’s quite good. When you compare him to Craig Kieswetter, who is the present incumbent of the ODI and T20 spot, Prior comes out on top – Kieswetter has flailed and missed a couple of relatively straightforward chances in these series. Don’t get me wrong, Prior is not the finished article as a keeper – particularly up to the stumps – but his time training with Bruce French has definitely done him some good.

His batting, on the other hand, has always exhausted most pundits’ superlatives. It was exceptional even in 2009 which is probably why he kept his place. To have the average he does coming in at 7 is extraordinary, especially when you think that more than once he has been called upon to slog for a declaration and got out cheaply. In terms of wicketkeepers who can change a game as batsmen, Prior is definitely channelling Adam Gilchrist’s spirit.

So in a rare move, I am actually advocating that England keep the status quo – Prior more than deserves his place and I’m slightly scratching my head as to why he doesn’t merit a spot in the one-day setup now that we’ve abandoned the oh-God-where-can-we-put-the-keeper-I-know-let’s-have-him-open policy. It would be nice to return to the halcyon days of good keeper first, good batsman second but that’s not going to happen, so for the moment, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And Matt Prior ain’t broke. He’s played 50 Tests and he ought to play close to another 50.

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  1. First thoughts from Sri Lanka « Two Grumpy England Cricket Fans

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