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One battle too far for Prior

The last year has not been kind to Matt Prior but that should not diminish what he achieved for England and, if his career does prove to be over, he can be remembered as a key part of the period of sustained success

George Dobell

July 22, 2014

Comments: 44 | Text size: A | A

Matt Prior trudges off the field after holing out in the deep, England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 5th day, July 21, 2014
Matt Prior walks off after being bounced out on the final day at Lord's - it was probably his final innings in Test cricket © Getty Images
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So another pillar of England's glory years is washed away.

Matt Prior's decision to take the rest of the summer off to recuperate from injury almost certainly ends an international career that has encompassed some of the brightest moments in England's recent Test history.

When England became the first side to win three Tests in a series in Australia by innings margins, Prior averaged 50 with the bat and claimed 23 catches. When England whitewashed India, at the time rated No. 1 in the Test rankings, in 2011, Prior averaged nearly 70 with the bat and again kept tidily. And when England came from behind to win in India in 2012, Prior again averaged 50 and held his own as keeper despite the workload demanded by two spinners and turning wickets.

The statistics are good - 4,099 Test runs and an average of 40.18 suggest he could probably have made it as a specialist batsman - but it was Prior's selflessness that rendered him one of the most valuable players of his generation. His first Test century, on debut in 2007, was typical: it provided the acceleration England required before a declaration. His final Test century, in Auckland in March 2013, was a masterful display of restraint and determination and saved a series that looked lost.

One image will endure: when Prior was informed he had been dropped from the Ashes team for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne at the end of 2013, he immediately congratulated and hugged his replacement, Jonny Bairstow, before giving him catching practice. You can tell a great deal about people from the way they react to disappointment. In such circumstances, Prior shone.

There were some hiccups along the way. His struggles, particularly with the gloves, towards the end of 2007 saw him dropped and he was rarely, by the very highest standards, as happy standing-up to the spinners as he was standing back to the seamers.

But it was often in adversity that Prior's ability came to the fore. And just as he responded to team crisis with his best performances, so he responded to his own failings by working harder than ever and coming back a better player. Until a recent dip, his keeping since his return to the team in late 2008, had been reassuringly sound.

For that reason he should probably not be written-off completely now. Like Jonathan Trott, he could return. But he will be 33 by the start of next season. It may well be, in time, that he is included - alongside Graeme Swann, Trott and even Andy Flower - in a list of those crushed by the remorselessness of England's schedule and the intensity of its environment. 32-year-olds should not be so broken.

So a return is unlikely. England need to find a replacement now and, if they decide the time is right to select Jos Buttler, need to give him a lengthy run in the team to allow him to develop. He, too, will have grim days. But he will benefit from the experience and needs to feel that he is more than Prior's deputy. England must not go back to the days when they selected highly promising young keepers - the likes of James Foster and Chris Read - and then abandoned them after they struggled to adjust.

This is the right decision, though. The Prior of 2014 threatens to compromise the reputation of the fine cricketer that represented England with distinction. He is clearly not as agile with his keeping and that lack of confidence has fed into his batting, where his shot-a-ball mentality was never going to succeed in Test cricket. Some of the chances he has put down have been desperately tough; several have not been. Many of the byes he has conceded have been no fault of his; but an uncomfortably large amount have been. He deserves credit for acknowledging that. He deserves credit for putting the team before himself.

Prior's comments raise questions about England's backroom operation, though. How was it was a man so palpably unfit, a man who had kept in only one Championship game in the season ahead of the first Test, selected for four Tests in succession? How was it that, despite the army of medics, the apparent professionalism of a system that scans and measures and monitors everything players do, a wicketkeeper was allowed to play when he had a quad injury and required an operation on his Achilles?

And why was it that, even after a Test in which Prior's performance was clearly inadequate, England's captain should suggest his selection was all but guaranteed should be want to continue? Has the England dressing room become so cosy a place that even the injured can be accommodated? Loyalty is a wonderful quality. But when it becomes blind, when it is to an individual and not a cause, then it becomes a weakness.

It is understandable that Cook wanted Prior around, though. With Trott and Swann gone, he is missing the trusted senior players he once had and needed Prior's experience in the field, in particular. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who looks little fitter than Prior, need to answer their captain's call now.

There has been talk of a new era in England for some time now. And that is only right: the team must renew and refresh.

But that old era, the era of Prior and Cook and Anderson and Swann and Trott and Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen… it was quite something. There is no guarantee England will ever see the like again.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by jango_moh on (July 26, 2014, 3:13 GMT)

the "era" as mr dobell described it was a very good team who reached #1, but lets not kid anybody here, they were not even able to hold on to that spot as much as india.... i remember when india were #1, the commentators kept saying this was temporary and SA is the real #1, but as soon as england got the spot, they were the biggest thing that happened to cricket since the discovery of fire.... this might be a reason why the team fell apart!!!! i hope i see good cricket in the remaining 3 tests, and may the best team win....

Posted by anywayisok on (July 24, 2014, 13:34 GMT)

Seems like it would have been far better to drop Cook (can't bat anymore and is a pathetic captain) and Prior(can't bat any more or keep wicket) and make Pietersen the captain (someone who can bat and has a 100% record as captain in tests)

Posted by Johnny_129 on (July 23, 2014, 15:55 GMT)

Far too much is made of England reaching #1 in Tests - It was for a very brief period. While India were returning from the euphoria of a WC win and using aging bulls near retirement, England managed to snatch the top spot. But holding onto top spot is a more challenging task as they soon found out - Only Aust and WI have managed that for long. Even India and SA were on top longer than England! As for Prior, great player and great career - Prior and Swann were the backbones of England's brief golden period. Congrats to Prior.

Posted by STRIKETHUNDER on (July 23, 2014, 14:50 GMT)

This is weird. Both cricket and football were invented by the Britons yet they are unable to do well at international level in these sports. This year's FIFA WC was really sad to see. Getting knocked out from group stage was terrible. It is worse in cricket World Cup. They are yet to win a 50 over WC even after all these years. Hope they can break that hoodoo at next year's WC. But, what could be the reason for their failures ?

Posted by SquareLegs on (July 23, 2014, 11:09 GMT)

@wablo55 "England...failed to win a test match as the No 1". Very interesting, but wrong. They won one against Sri Lanka and two (and the series) against West Indies.

Posted by Sexysteven on (July 23, 2014, 7:51 GMT)

I don't think you should write prior off just yet he's still got afew good years left in him when he gets fit again taking the rest of the season off is a great move by prior his body obviously needs arest and time to recharge again and hopefully by next season he will fit and healthy and ready to challenge the incumbent keeper to get back in the side again to finish off his career the way it deserves to finish in agood way best of luck to prior lets hope he can do that

Posted by Greatest_Game on (July 23, 2014, 6:24 GMT)

@ Tlotoxl. The thrashing was indeed the first test, & the series went downhill from there for Eng, culminating in Strauss' retirement. Personally I can't say he ever warmed my heart, but he was a damned fine skipper who held that team together, led from the front & took them to the top. Probably the most underrated skipper in recent times. I'm not English and I believe that!

When I say "never recovered," I meant, & I thought I had made it clear, that the loss of Strauss was key. I guess I could just say Eng never recovered from the simultaneous loss of Strauss & their position at the top of the rankings. It was a double blow, and bits & pieces have been falling off ever since.

Posted by joseyesu on (July 23, 2014, 4:09 GMT)

What i see is the team eng no1 is now no more. We have now cook, bell, anderson and broad, who are not effective with their own form and not getting much from others

Posted by 2MikeGattings on (July 23, 2014, 2:03 GMT)

I said it before the start of the Sri Lanka series: Prior, having proven neither his fitness nor his form, was selected as a specialist vice captain.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2014, 20:12 GMT)

Sad to see him go, a truly decent guy and one of the few England players i have genuine respect for.

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