England v Pakistan, 1st npower Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day July 31, 2010

Pushed to the margins, Prior takes centre stage


This has been a week in which Test cricket's merits have been shown in vastly contrasting lights. On the one hand a shocking contest has dribbled to a conclusion in Colombo, with 17 wickets falling in five days at the SSC, including 10 batsmen passing fifty - five of them for a hundred, two of them for a double. At Trent Bridge, on the other hand, consecutive days have passed in which 15 and 13 wickets have tumbled, and all told, 18 batsmen to date have been dismissed in single figures.

There's no question whatsoever which of the two contests has been the most compelling, not even at a stage of the Trent Bridge game when only one team has the slightest hope of victory. At 15 for 3 overnight, Ladbrokes are offering odds of 2-1 for England to wrap up victory before lunch on the fourth day, but even if they do so, the effort that Matt Prior put into today's magnificent unbeaten century will not be compromised by the eventual gulf between the sides.

Prior has had a rough time of it of late. Through no great fault of his own, he's been pushed to the margins of England's wider squad planning, with Craig Kieswetter's emergence leaving him in limbo in the limited-overs set-up. No-one in their right mind has seriously pedalled the notion that his Test berth is in the same sort of jeopardy, and yet, such is the nature of the England wicketkeeping position, the doubts require almost daily dispersal.

Therefore, a superbly combative 102 not out, forged from a position of peril at 72 for 5, was quite some statement of intent. It was Prior's third hundred in 32 Tests, and his first since Trinidad in March 2009, but by the close of play, his satisfaction derived from the manner in which he'd transformed his team's position, rather than the fact he'd logged another statistic in his record-book.

"I'm not a huge stats watcher, or a stat man," he said. "I got a 93 in my last Test [against Bangladesh at Old Trafford], so it doesn't feel that long ago that I contributed to the team. Whether it was important to show what I could do, I don't know, but I went in in a position when the team needed me to get stuck in, and getting runs for the team was the important bit."

In fact, a century could hardly have been further from Prior's thoughts for much of his innings, which began in the midst of yet another of Pakistan's inspired bursts with the ball, as Umar Gul swiped three wickets in four overs to leave his team dreaming of an attainable run-chase. His most immediate concern was to atone for his part in the run-out of Eoin Morgan, and by the time he was joined by the No. 11, Steven Finn, he had a long, long way still to travel, on 63 not out.

"I don't know what happened there," he said of the Morgan mix-up. "At that time, too many risky runs and singles wasn't the best idea, so it was a bit of miscommunication really. I didn't hear him say yes, he didn't hear me say no, and we ended up looking at each other, with him halfway down the wicket and me thinking: 'Oh my gosh, it's happened again'. It is very disappointing to be involved in a run-out at any stage, especially when it involves arguably your best player of the moment, so I thought I'd best knuckle down here!"

Knuckle down he did, with Finn proving to be the most obdurate of allies. While his stonewalling prowess came as a surprise and a delight to a packed Trent Bridge crowd who cheered every step towards England's eventual declaration, Prior himself had no doubt whatsoever about Finn's ability, having witnessed it at close quarters during a rare Championship appearance for Sussex against Middlesex at Uxbridge last week. With Morgan at the other end, Finn had blocked out 35 dot-balls in a 12-over partnership, to save the game with only two wickets standing.

"It was thoroughly annoying," Prior recalled. "But as he walked to the wicket today, I said something along the lines of 'Same again today please mate!' He did such a fantastic job, not only in the way he played, but what he contributed to the partnership in between overs, in terms of gameplans and all those things. He did all that was expected of him, and more."

Regardless of his faith in his team-mate, Prior still had to endure some nervy moments at the non-striker's end, as he crept through the nineties - single by single - with many of his shots coming from the first ball of an over. "My gameplan was to look for twos and fours, but every run counted, I felt, especially when Finny came up to me to say he felt confident at holding up an end. It got a bit frustrating at the end because I wasn't quite hitting the gaps, but I didn't want to turn singles down."

That failure to work the angles is the precise reason why Prior's spot in the one-day side has been passed across to Kieswetter, who may lack the subtlety of, say, Morgan, but tends to find the boundaries with a lot of bottom hand. In terms of pure batsmanship, however, there's no comparison between the two men whatsoever. Kieswetter has time on his side and a talent to cultivate, but as a battler who can be backed to produce on demand, Prior's place for the Ashes is utterly non-negotiable.

"I've batted at six with success, and I've batted at seven, and I feel well placed to do the role in each, as long as we have the right balanced team to win the Test match," he said. "International cricket is all about pressure and how you respond to it. I've not played a day for England as a batsman-keeper that's not been under pressure, but I enjoy and thrive on it, and I embrace it rather than get nervous about it."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Robert on August 1, 2010, 13:42 GMT

    Well what ever you think i say Strauss was right, grind them into the ground show them no mercy, completely shatter their spirit, if Australia do it everyone applauds , but England no rubbish them. Pakistan got what they deserved a flogging, Butt was boasting last week well that will take the wind out of his sail . and i say congratulations from an Australian to ENGLAND cricketers and all their detractors remember they keep winning series when did they loose their last loose one..

  • Bob on August 1, 2010, 12:26 GMT

    @Tomek... What rubbish you do talk.. If Strauss wasn't just letting the game drag on until Prior got his 100, then why did he declare immediately after he got it. He could have declared when Broad got out with a lead of 375 which no team has ever got in a fourth innings to win a test at Trent Bridge, and Pakistan had no hope of getting anywhere near that in the bowling friendly conditions that existed at that stage. The game might well have been over yesterday evening and these poor hard-pressed players who are complaining about the amount of cricket there is, could have had an extra day off. As for who I'm related to, you're just as way off the mark with that ludicrous statement as you are with the rest of your post.

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2010, 12:09 GMT

    Pakistan need to do a lot of changes to their team now, I think experience is needed from Yousef/Younis and they could also bring Yasir Hameed replace Farhat, bowling looks alright, but batting needs to be sorted out... Other change they can do in future is to have 5 or 6 different teams, if they want to play youngsters, they need to play different teams in very high level, but they could face loses but those will help them choose right team from that... but playing same team which loses and doesnt perform again and again is some stupidity, because failure is when you give up, but it is different to lost, if you lost you can always find ways to come back and win... Pakistan Zindabad !!!

  • Tomek on August 1, 2010, 10:29 GMT

    @bobmartin - ah riiight, I bet Strauss, with 2 days and 20 over to go was just thinking "if only I can get my little buddy over the line he'll throw a few quid my way"...why not just declare at 250 lead hey? not like they have any chance of making 400 on the roads that are produced for tests these days? Mate seriously, if he'd let Prior get to 300, with a lead of 700 then your point might make sense, as it is I suggest you are probably related to one of the myriad English born keepers who are busy crying into their milk? Ridiculous statement you've made there chap.

  • Jason on August 1, 2010, 7:54 GMT

    @gramedgar, I tihnk you'll find that Prior is in his 32nd test. Hes a resonable keeper and is keeping at bay the likes of Davies and Foster, which is no mean feat considering how they are perfoming at the moment....@Usman_nile, i agree its a young team, and they are learning, however I can see big things coming from the core of this team over the next 3-4 years, Pakistan need a class Keeper, Kamran Akmal has cost Pakistan between 100 and 150 runs this match with dropped catches, and extras, and Kaneria is no longer a match winning spinner, 200-1 is hardly world class considering the pitch is spinning.

  • Scott on August 1, 2010, 7:50 GMT

    It's typically English to doubt Prior. His keeping is now excellent and he can score runs in difficult situations. Sure, he has weaknesses just outside his off stump, but so does anyone for a while in their innings. Tim Paine is not, as yet, in the same class as Prior and I don't rate Haddin. But they will play all forms of cricket for the Aussies. Same with Dhoni, Boucher, McCullum, Akmal. I wish we'd stick with that idea ourselves.

  • Prasad on August 1, 2010, 7:42 GMT

    Prior deserves respect: I am really surprised by constant under value of Prior. He is a consistent performer and has excellent strike rate. Yet, his position is always questioned. Some people never have luck, some others have all the luck. Life is not fair, but Prior deservers fairness and respect.

  • Simon on August 1, 2010, 6:31 GMT

    Prior's a class act, with gloves and bat, and must be considered extremely unlucky to only be on the fringes of the limited-overs teams. Still, there are a number of very good England players who can't get a spot in one or more of the teams at the moment, which is great for English cricket. @bobmartin - woah, your glass is half empty, ain't it mate? who, er, urinated on your bonfire?

  • Graeme on August 1, 2010, 0:35 GMT

    we are talking about a player who has kept his average over 40 for, i think, 39 tests. it isnt even a debate. and his keeping is solid if not a little more now. another cog in this burgeoning side clicked into place today. cook and kp are our big worries, and both of them have form down under. the ashes are there for the taking.

  • Dre on July 31, 2010, 23:24 GMT

    Great see-saw battle ended (just about) by a stroke filled Prior knock. Eng's depth is its greatest asset and thus has allowed them to pull away. The matches in Eng are really putting pressure on the terrible matches the sub-continent n W.I. have been serving up. I hope the comparison is mentioned every-where at every possible moment and may ICC put the squeeze on the curators. The sub-continent and a re-building W.I. have a lot to offer with their teams and it is time they play on sensible pitches!

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