Prior under pressure as Flower looks ahead
Matt Prior's role as wicketkeeper for the one-day series in Bangladesh could be under threat from the uncapped Craig Kieswetter, after England's coach, Andy Flower, hinted that they intended to use the games as direct preparation for the World Twenty20 that gets underway in the Caribbean at the end of April.
The hard-hitting Kieswetter, who only completed his England qualification last week, was not chosen to play in either of the recent Twenty20 matches against Pakistan in Dubai, despite making an immediate case for selection with a matchwinning 81 for the England Lions against the senior side in Abu Dhabi.
On Tuesday in Fatullah, however, he made up for lost time by cracking an impressive 143 from 123 balls against a Bangladesh Cricket Board XI, his first appearance in full England colours. He was then handed the gloves for the second match 48 hours later, and picked up two catches in a comfortable seven-wicket win. Prior, who was asked to play as a specialist batsman, responded with a timely 64 from 57 balls, to seal the contest with 11.4 overs to spare.
However, when asked after the match whether Prior was still England's No. 1, Flower declined the opportunity to give him his unequivocal backing. "I can't tell you that because we have a match on Sunday and that would be telling you our side," he said. "[Kieswetter] is in the squad as a wicketkeeping batsman, so it is an option.
"It was a nice gentle introduction for him in terms of keeping wicket for England, in a low-pressure environment," Flower added. "It was also an opportunity to look at him with the gloves on, [because] I don't know much about his cricket. And it was also an opportunity for him to get used to the side, and for the side to get used to him with the gloves on."
The situation is unfortunate for Prior, who has done little wrong since reclaiming his place as England's limited-overs wicketkeeper, particularly with the gloves, and yet has found it hard to replicate the counterattacking approach that he has made his trademark in Tests. In 30 matches since 2008, and from a variety of positions up and down the order, he has picked up 525 runs at 27.63, with an unspectacular strike-rate of 76.41.
"Today was an opportunity for him to get up front and get some time in the middle," said Flower of Prior's promotion to No. 3 in Fatullah. "Batting at 6 or 7 is a specialist area and he's shown glimpses of good skill and it's not easy to bat in that area to put in performances that consistently catch the eye and make a difference. It's a tricky area to bat."
If Prior's future lies in the middle order, then Kieswetter - with or without the gloves - is sure to open the batting in Bangladesh alongside the stand-in captain, Alastair Cook, and at the expense of Jonathan Trott, whose standing as a limited-overs opener has plummeted since the tour of South Africa.
Last week, Flower expressed his disappointment in the starts that Trott and Joe Denly had offered England in Dubai, and he clearly hopes that Kieswetter will gather sufficient momentum in the coming weeks to take straight into the Caribbean - where he can expect to form part of the 16th opening combination that England will have used in 26 Twenty20 matches.
"We don't know about selection for the Twenty20 World Cup, but if we're to go with him, if he had a great series against Bangladesh, it's a gentle introduction," said Flower. "I thought he kept nicely. He looks a natural catcher of the ball."
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.