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Team man Prior celebrates own success

David Hopps

May 13, 2013

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Matt Prior pulls during his match-saving century, New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 5th day, March 26, 2013
Matt Prior saved England in Auckland with his seventh Test hundred © Getty Images
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Matt Prior has increasingly been hailed as England's ultimate team man, but for once he is celebrating an individual achievement. Prior has been named as England's cricketer of the year and received his award at a celebratory dinner in the Long Room at Lord's.

It was fitting that a player who symbolises the importance of the common cause should look slightly guilty about receiving the award. "It was fantastic when I found out, a huge honour to be singled out as player of the year," he said. "But I feel slightly uncomfortable with it because individual accolades are not really the reason I play. I want this team to win. I get much more out of the group winning a Test or series."

Prior, the first wicketkeeper to win the award, judged by members of the England cricket media, likes the idea that it is in some way recognition of his team ethic.

"I hope so although I've not really given it much thought. What I would say is anytime I go out to play an innings the first thing I need to do is to get into the best position to win or save a game, or think what do I need to do to get the scoreboard in the right place, rather than how many runs do I need to average 50 - I can't just perform like that.

"There have been times in the past where people have said you need to look after that bit, or get more not-outs, I just can do it. I'm not saying I'm the ultimate team player; it's just the way I play sport - to win. That's where I get the enjoyment from."

There were many persuasive reasons to vote for Prior as England's player of the year. The most emotional justification arose from memories of his defiant hundred in Auckland to save the third Test against New Zealand and salvage a drawn series.

But there were broader reasons, too. There was the knowledge that he is the only England batsman apart from the captain, Alastair Cook, to average more than 50 in Tests in the past two years. There was the recognition that his wicketkeeping has improved by leaps and bounds - sometimes quite literally - under the tuition of a former England wicketkeeper Bruce French.

Mostly, though, it was his reputation as England's heartbeat that won him the accolade ahead of other deserving claimants such as Alastair Cook, for the remorseless run scoring that turned the India Test series, and James Anderson, skilful and indefatigable, a fast bowler at his peak as he proved that he could bowl in the most discouraging circumstances.

Hat-trick for Brunt

  • Katherine Brunt was named as England Women's Cricketer of the Year. Brunt won the award for a third time following a year in which she proved to be England's most consistent bowler, picking up 12 wickets in the Women's World Cup campaign in India.
  • Ben Foakes, the Essex and England U-19 wicketkeeper-batsman, won the England Development Programme Cricketer of the Year award. Foakes was England's leading run-scorer at the U-19 World Cup in Australia last summer, toured India with the Performance Programme squad last winter and Australia with England Lions.
  • The Disability Cricketer of the Year was Matthew Dean from England's Visually Impaired squad. Dean, from Welling in Kent, was the team's leading run scorer in last winter's T20 World Cup for the Blind in India, contributing 490 runs at an average of more than 80.

Prior looked mildly stunned. "You look back on the year and look at the amount of quality in the dressing room," he said. "Jimmy Anderson's performance in India: for a seam bowler to perform like he did was phenomenal - that's worth a player of the year award. Cooky: the way he led from the front in India. There are a number of guys who have put in huge performances. They've obviously just pulled a name out of the hat, so I'm hugely honoured but it could have been a number of guys."

But it was much more than a name out of a hat. All Out Cricket magazine did not just stop at describing Prior as England's "heartbeat". In this month's issue, they hailed him as the team's moral compass, the protector of their spirit, a dressing room confidant, and a tactician and cheerleader - as vice-captain, he offers a more instinctive, noisier flavour to Cook's reflective and conservative approach.

He was also the player who phoned Kevin Pietersen, when the extent of his stand-off with the England dressing room became known - ignoring the political niceties at the time and relying instead on a faith in the team ethic and a few home truths. He is embarrassed that his call has passed into English cricket folklore - after all, he just picked up the phone and said what he thought - but, not to put too fine a point on it, it cut the crap and English cricket was all the better for it.

His continued omission from England's one-day side, and memories of his sudden dropping from England's Test side in 2008, have taught him not to overreact to the plaudits that now, more than ever, will come his way.

"Not playing ODIs certainly keeps you fresh," he said. "I've said before that it's a bit of a catch-22, the whole matter of playing one-day cricket or not. From a positive point of view it gives me these windows of opportunity to fully prepare for each Test series. Not just from a physical point of view, but also mentally being able to switch off.

"Also you can prepare completely on each team you are up against. That certainly allows me to go into each Test series at 100%, giving it everything until the last ball then duck out again and have a few weeks riding a bicycle."

These days, he gets equal satisfaction from wicketkeeping and batting. If his hundred in Auckland is understandably his sharpest batting memory of the year, his catch, standing up to Jonathan Trott, to dismiss New Zealand's captain, Brendon McCullum, in the same Test was also a source of great satisfaction, proof of how much his game has advanced.

"It was only two or three weeks beforehand that I had been working with Frenchy away from everyone, having arguments about whether we should do it this way or whether that way will help you. Frenchy got his way, which I hate to admit, and suddenly I got that catch. When you do the work, put that extra time to gain one, two, three percent and you see it work in the middle it's hugely fulfilling.

"There has been a lot of stuff said. It's a fickle world, if I punch one on Thursday I'll be rubbish again. Everyone else can say their bits, I'll just concentrate on catching as many balls as I can and keep working hard. In years to come, when hopefully I've played a few more years and caught a few more catches we can see where I sit."

He loves Lord's, where this summer gets underway against New Zealand on Thursday, and can smile now at the dressing room window he accidentally smashed two years ago as he fumed over being run out in a Test against Sri Lanka as England chased quick runs for a declaration on the final day.

"I love this ground: home of cricket, to drive in and get your little spot next to the window. They've safeguarded it: double-glazed, smash-proof, it's all good. I'm allowed back in that corner. It feels like coming home."

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (May 15, 2013, 8:21 GMT)

Idea: if debating the "best wicketkeeper-batsman," consult the WICKETKEEPING RECORDS - link for TESTS is http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/records/index.html?category=5;class=1

Some highlights:

Most Dismissals in a Match: 11 - AB de Villiers & RC Russel.

Most byes Conceded in an Innings: Prior conceded the 2nd, 3rd & 9th most - only person on the list 3 times. (Dhoni is on the list, de Villiers is not.)

Highest Inngs Total Without Conceding a Bye: de Villiers is listed twice. In back-to-back inns (over 2 tests) de Villiers did not concede a bye in 1472 balls! (Dhoni on the list, Prior not.)

Also, look up a player's FIELDING ANALYSIS as WICKETKEEPER in STATSGURU. A "keeper's average" is his D/I - Dismissals per Innings. To save you the trouble/because I know you won't anyway, they are:

de Villiers D/I - 2.115. Prior D/I - 1.661 Dhoni D/I - 1.734

First quote records/figures, then your opinions.

PS. de Villiers IS the best bat. +50 ave tests & ODI. #3 in test, #1 in ODI, etc

Posted by cric_J on (May 15, 2013, 8:08 GMT)

@joski :With due respect to you ,sir, any claims that MSD is a better test keeper-batsman than Prior reflects a lack of basic cricketing knowledge on your part and an assessment based on something other than facts.

In ODIs MS is probably one of the best batsmen in the world ever and definitely one of the top 5 at the moment. Also he is definitely the best finisher the game has ever produced. Much the same applies to t20s as well.

But in tests , he is way behind AB and Prior .Check out the stats if needed. Personally I would rank AB higher than Matt as he is the more talented one and because of his incredible range of shots. But then it is Prior who is more dependable and probably has a more solid technique for test cricket.

In terms of wicket-keeping too , MS is far behind. AB is a born athlete and Matt is a very professional keeper who misses very few.

Across all formats (t20 , ODI and tests combined) , AB would be the best keeper-bat and MSD would be second.

Posted by anver777 on (May 15, 2013, 7:23 GMT)

Congrats !!! richly deserves this award !!

Posted by class9ryan on (May 15, 2013, 2:03 GMT)

Matt Prior is certainly the best on going wicket keeper batsman in the world. The great quality of him is he can can play well in all conditions (also in the subcontinent). He has played very well for Sussex in the shorter versions of the game. Talking about ODIs, he can walk into the English side if no.3 ( Trott ) is injured.

Posted by bigdhonifan on (May 14, 2013, 18:46 GMT)

All forms of cricket, then it is MSD, no competition.

Posted by Shan156 on (May 14, 2013, 17:00 GMT)

@joski65, you are absolutely correct if we are talking T20s or ODIs but if we are talking tests, Prior is heads and shoulders above Dhoni. Way better batsman and better keeper.

I think Prior should be picked only for tests. He has been tried several times in ODIs and has failed. Let him concentrate on his test game. He is doing fine there. We have other options for ODIs/T20s now.

Posted by Shan156 on (May 14, 2013, 16:50 GMT)

Amen @Nutcutlet. I am a huge fan of Matt Prior and I am elated that he won this award. He deserves it more than anyone else in the team. He is a selfless player, a rock in the lower middle order, and his keeping has improved leaps and bounds from the 2007 lows. Well done Matt. Hope you serve Eng. for a long time to come.

Posted by cric_J on (May 14, 2013, 13:45 GMT)

Heartiest congratulations to Matt for the accolade. You deserve it to the core my Sir.

Awards don't hardly mean anything to the players. But it is always good to get some recognition , a sort of momento for all the efforts that one puts for the team. Something that one can cherish.

2012 was kind of a roller-coster ride for most English players. But not so for Matt. He was extremely consistent and solid with his performances , especially againdt India and SA. He was the backbone of the batting lineup and missed hardly any chances with the gloves. No other player deserved the award more than him.

Hope he can continue this form this year as well. But for now, cheers to the man for his sheer grit and determination. And for giving us the opportunity to witness some really gutsy innings from him.

Posted by Aussiesfalling on (May 14, 2013, 13:07 GMT)

I wouldn't put AB in the same class at Matt as a keeper because he is yet to demonstrate that he can keep well to all types of bowlers in all types of conditions. Many people had thought that Jaywardene was probably the best keeper in the world until they saw him struggle in England. Matt has kept well all around the world including in Sri Lanka, perhaps the toughest place to keep. When he first toured Sri Lanka he struggled with the gloves and was dropped despite being one of England's most successful batters on that tour. AB looks to me to be a bit too much like Haddin, a keeper who relies on diving rather than footwork.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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