Matt Prior not fazed by challenger
If any of the England squad harboured a temptation to take the tour of Bangladesh lightly, then Matt Prior's predicament at the start of the series was just the sort of scenario to sharpen the collective focus. Prior set off from England in mid-February looking like England's No. 1 wicketkeeper in all formats, only to encounter the formidable figure of Craig Kieswetter during the squad's stop-over in the Middle East.
By the time England touched down in Dhaka, Kieswetter had been drafted in as a 16th member of the full ODI squad, as Andy Flower spoke openly of bedding him into the side in time for the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean. For a while, it seemed there could be room for only one wicketkeeper-batsman in the starting line-up, but the incumbent Prior responded impressively as Kieswetter's debutant nerves got the better of him, and in the series-sealing victory at Dhaka on Tuesday, his 42 from 58 balls proved invaluable in a two-wicket win.
"A little bit of pressure always helps I suppose," said Prior, for whom the scenario evoked familiar memories. "I've never been someone who shies away from competition, because ultimately I believe the best man plays, and that's how it is. I started my career with Tim Ambrose at Sussex, and Timmy and I had that mentality back then that we work together, work very hard together, and push each other.
"It's no different now," he added. "I like to think of myself as a big team man and a big team player, and to make them feel a part of the team, and I greeted Craig no differently to how I'd greet anyone else in the squad. It's competition, but if it means we have to perform, it's a good thing for English cricket, and hopefully it'll make me a better cricketer. I just want to play in a winning England team, and if having a hard-hitting batter like Craig at the top of the order is going to help, then I'm all for it."
Kieswetter's initial outings for the England ODI side have been tinged by nerves, as he compiled a chancy 19 in the first match, followed by a streaky 4 in the second, but having arrived in the country with a hard-hitting 143 from 123 balls in the first warm-up, nobody doubts the potential he brings to the No. 1 position. Instead, the onus has been on Prior to reinvent his own game, having been tried and tested in a variety of positions further up the order, before his latest incarnation as a finisher at No. 6.
"I see no reason why there should not be a place for both of us in the team, with me keeping and batting at No.6, while he's opening the batting. But it's all down to the performance," said Prior. "Whatever position I'm in, I enjoy the challenge of being in the game, and batting at No. 6 you go in at crucial times. Those positions can sometimes be the main places for getting a team over the line or not, so you take on the challenge and embrace it."
At the start of the series, there was some speculation that Prior might lose the gloves to give Kieswetter a chance to practice the full wicketkeeper-batsman role ahead of the World Twenty20, but that notion has been shelved, and rightly so, for if there's one aspect of Prior's game that has been nigh on flawless of late, it has been his glovework. But now, he says, it's time to revert to working on his first love - batting.
"During the South Africa tour, and certainly for the last few months, I've put a lot of emphasis into my keeping," he said. "But there are only so many hours in the day, so the thing that's had to give way was a bit of time on my batting. It was a choice I made, rather than me not being bothered, but after South Africa I thought, hold on a minute, I feel in a good place with my keeping, I feel I've put the hours in and worked really hard, but I've got to maintain my batting as well."
The efforts he's put in so far paid dividends for England on Tuesday in a vital fifth-wicket stand of 90 with the Man of the Match, Eoin Morgan. Together they hauled England out of a hole at 108 for 4 in the 24th over, as England went on to clinch the series by two wickets in an exceptionally tense finale.
"Going in in that sort of situation was a good test, and pleased with how I played and how I managed to play the spinners," said Prior, who was forced to manipulate the ball into gaps, and dispense with the hard-handed cuts and drives that are his stock-in-trade as a Test-match counterattacker.
"I played okay and it was a good partnership, but I was disappointed with when I got out," he added. "It was a big time for pushing singles, and in the future I'd like to be the one getting the not out, and making sure there aren't any hiccups or twists and turns.
"I think it's easy to say it's only Bangladesh, but they know how to play and bowl in their own conditions, and they are not a walkover by any stretch of the imagination," he added. "That first hundred from Tamim Iqbal was a fantastic knock, and Mushfiqur Rahim played brilliantly the other night. It's not just about turning up and beating a weaker team, nowhere near."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.