Matt Prior is going through a tough phase. While his poor run with the bat was under scanner till now, the crucial misses behind the wicket on Day Three of Perth Test has further given fodder for critics to call for his exclusion. Abhijit Banare looks at Prior’s tough phase and whether he should be dropped.
“Sometimes you have to look at yourself straight in the mirror and know where you’re at as an individual and from a team point of view.”
These were Matt Prior’s words ahead of the crucial third Ashes Test which three days down the line, England are set to be outclassed at. Yet, when you read the sentence again and again, you cannot ignore that they also reflect Prior’s mindset which is clearly visible in the way he is performing.
Among the various faults one might find in England’s poor performance on this tour, nothing is more embarrassing than the failure of the batting department to click even once. Each batsman in that line-up is a match-winner in his own way. And among them, Prior’s role is that of being the backbone of the team. In fact, wicketkeepers of both the teams (Brad Haddin for Australia) play a distinctive role of shifting the balance of the match. With six down for 250 odd, the wicketkeeper hangs around with a 100-run partnership and suddenly you are looking forward positively towards a fine first innings score. However, Prior has failed to discharge that role which Haddin has achieved with aplomb. And the England keeper’s batting becomes even more crucial looking at the poor run of the batsmen.
Apart from batting, there are two other crucial roles played by Prior. A) A reliable keeper B) A senior pro who has been a sane voice supporting the captain in making key decisions. Though there aren’t concrete situations to argue on the second point, but his dismal performance behind the stumps was glaringly evident on Day Three of the third Test at Perth. He missed two crucial stumping chances. The first one could have made all the difference for the team. Warner, who had just entered double digits, could have been sent back to the pavilion well before he exploded. And the catch of Chris Rogers is the one which said a lot about his mindset. The commentators on air made some interesting comments. Alastair Cook, who reacted late to that one-handed catch, was expecting a confident Prior to cut that off and take it into his gloves. In contrast, Prior didn’t even move a yard to his left until Cook dived and floored it.
Not only was it an opportunity gone begging, it also had a demoralising effect on the bowlers. A resigned look on Cook’s face indicated that nothing was meant to go his way. The dropped chances meant their two strike bowlers, Graeme Swann and James Anderson were left further frustrated under the torrid heat of Perth.
Nothing can be more damaging when you are out of form and your team is not performing as well. Prior is among the seniors who the team relies on. It’s the failure of the seniors to lead from the front in the batting department which has made a big difference. Since the match-saving hundred at Auckland, Prior has played nine Tests (excluding the ongoing Perth Test). He has five ducks and has just one half half-century to his name. This brittle performance down the order has hurt England a lot.
Should Prior be dropped?
This was a question Prior himself answered in the pre-match press-conference of the Perth Test. The keeper accepted that he wasn’t playing well, but worrying about his place was not his job. He made it clear that the team’s win was what mattered to him and not his place which is best left for the selectors to decide.
Excluding Prior after a poor run with the bat in the high profile series would be nothing short of a knee-jerk reaction. Yes, he hasn’t been good enough; however, he brings a great value to England as a team. It’s a package he provides with crucial insights, while wicketkeeping behind the wickets. It’s fair enough to consider Jonny Bairstow or a Craig Kieswetter in the short run, but ruling our Prior would ultimately be more of England’s loss than Prior’s.
Prior’s career seems to be running parallel to that of Haddin. While he is facing the heat now, his Australian counterpart came under a lot of flak before the start of the series and he has successfully countered that with fifties in all three Tests. Both have had a long career, made to wait for long to secure their due. Prior has been a fighter and one can surely count on him to fight back. His determined words during the press conference seem apt for him at the moment: “It doesn’t get harder than this”.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
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