Sri Lanka in England 2014

Time not on Prior's side for first Test

Andrew McGlashan

May 29, 2014

Comments: 30 | Text size: A | A

Matt Prior watches as the umpire's check for a no-ball on his dismissal, Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day, December 15, 2013
Matt Prior may not be able to prove his fitness against Sri Lanka © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Matt Prior | Alastair Cook
Teams: England | Sri Lanka

Time has almost run out for Matt Prior to make a return to the England Test side against Sri Lanka. With the Test squad set to be announced late next week he has just one Championship match remaining to prove his fitness.

Even if Prior played and kept wicket in the match against Nottinghamshire, and in the NatWest T20 Blast on Friday, it would still be a huge risk to select him.

An Achilles problem - which Prior has managed for considerable time - has limited him to just one Championship appearance this season, the opening match against Middlesex, where he scored a hundred but did not have the gloves.

He was withdrawn from Sussex's rain-ruined return fixture against Middlesex at Merchant Taylor's School so he could undertake intense work with Bruce French, the England wicketkeeping coach, to further assess the state of his injury but there is still no guarantee he will keep in the T20 against Glamorgan.

A fit Prior was all-but assured of reclaiming the place he lost after the third Test against Australia in Perth. Alastair Cook has been having regular conversations with Prior, who was also the Test vice-captain when he was dropped, but knows that rushing back from such an injury could have long term consequences.

"It is a big concern," Cook said. "I've been speaking to him every week and he's been doing everything he can. He's incredibly frustrated because Achilles injuries are hard to heal.

"He's a big part of our plans, but we can't rush a guy back, that wouldn't be fair on him or to the England team. There's time, about two weeks to the first Test match and we'll be in constant communication throughout.

"He knows he is a big part of things and we want him to be there, but if he's not there it will give someone else an opportunity."

The identity of that someone else remains the subject of much debate. Jonny Bairstow is the man in possession having played in Melbourne and Sydney but did not convince in the role with either bat or gloves, although the coaching staff at Yorkshire are convinced that is partly due to the way he has been handled by England.

Jos Buttler has been in the limited-overs role for more than a year now and put in a tidy performance in the Old Trafford ODI with four catches but his performances behind the stumps remain inconsistent.

"Like a lot of guys he is a really talented keeper and a really talented cricketer," Cook said of Buttler. "He's nowhere near the finished article with his keeping but just watch him practise and you will see him put the hard yards in and that progress will keep going in the right way no doubt."

Mick Newell, one of the England selectors, admitted this week that the keeping debate split people into two camps and appeared to suggest that the option of returning to a more pure gloveman, in the James Foster or Chris Read bracket, was not being discounted.

"There are two camps of keeper," Newell said. "There is the Kieswetter, Buttler, Bairstow group and there is the Foster, Read group, more the old-school wicketkeeper. I watched Foster last week and he was terrific. There will be an interesting debate there.

"What has come out of the winter is a complete rethink with five, six, seven spots up for grabs, which is a bit scary but exciting at the same time."

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by notimeforcricket on (June 1, 2014, 8:21 GMT)

the part which confuses me is the notion that Foster and Read are "pure" glovesmen, iplication being they can't bat. both have very good batting records in recent years.

Posted by CodandChips on (May 30, 2014, 12:14 GMT)

@John Young " I believe they are both as good as Prior was when he first kept for England"- Prior got dropped pretty early on, and that forced him to improve his keeping. Bairstow and Buttler are not good enough to keep for England in test matches. While Buttler has certainly improved his keeping while playing white-ball cricket for England, trying to do that in a test match, where his batting would also need to improve significantly, is too much to ask.

"Bairstow has the more obvious claim to be a long innings player"- while that is probably true, Bairstow's record as a batsman for England in all 3 formats is incredibly disappointing. He is out of his depth in international cricket and should be left to develop his game with Yorkshire.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (May 30, 2014, 11:01 GMT)

Time not on his side lol? How bout the fact he's been out of form for a year and a half and has been dropped from the side?

Posted by   on (May 30, 2014, 10:24 GMT)

Matt Prior is the obvious number one if he can regain the form he displayed a year ago. But he hasn't. His recent games for England were poor and he would surely have been dropped earlier had he not been an established high quality player. His injury has prevented him regaining form and until he does so he should not be picked.

Given England's batting inconsistencies, it is vital that the keeper is a batsman capable of playing a long innings. Butler can hit quick runs in the shorter game, but Bairstow has the more obvious claim to be a long innings player. I don't think there is much between them as keepers, but I believe they are both as good as Prior was when he first kept for England.

Bairstow was the tour back up wicket keeper and is the man in possession and should not be shunted out without being given a sustained chance to see if he can do the job.

Posted by CodandChips on (May 30, 2014, 10:19 GMT)

@siltbreeze " I still think we obsess far too much about the extra 5-10 runs more per innings a batsman/keeper might average with the bat regardless of how many he costs you behind the stumps"- I agree completely. Having a keeper who takes catches and stumpings and doesn't give away many byes is invaluable.

@Rupert147 "In the absence of Prior the only like for like replacement is Kieswetter". I disagree with that. Steven Davies is the like for like. Davies is an excellent keeper and a good coutner-attacking batsman. Kieswetter may have a better record with the bat, but he is a poor keeper. Unfortuantely though Davies isn't keeping at Surrey currently due to his bizarre decision to give up the gloves to improve his form.

Fundamentally, keepers need to be able to catch well. It is so important. Hence why so many of us wouldn't mind Foster.

Posted by IMCG67 on (May 30, 2014, 9:36 GMT)

The debate about who gets the keeping gloves for the test shows that there is no stand out candidate with each one suggested having pros/cons about selection. From what Cook says it would indicate that IF fit Prior would have played, however given he isn't the likelihood is that Jos is the next option on the basis that he is presently with the England camp and is obviously making the right noises in training by working hard at his technique. My own view is that Chris Read is the best option, but given the above this would only be a short term option and the longer term action would be to integrate a younger option, however Bairstow has had many chances and not stood out at Test Level therefore what harm can it do to give Jos a go especially as playing is the only way he is likely to get better and demonstrate whether he is up to the task or not !

Posted by siltbreeze on (May 30, 2014, 8:49 GMT)

If Stokes is fit and we play Moeen Ali as the spinner, they can bat 6/7 and Foster (or Read for that matter) would be a perfectly adequate number 8. I still think we obsess far too much about the extra 5-10 runs more per innings a batsman/keeper might average with the bat regardless of how many he costs you behind the stumps. Dropping a player on nought who goes on to score a hundred has as much impact on the game as scoring a century yourself, yet is never viewed as such.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2014, 7:53 GMT)

foster has long been the best keeper in england, which was shown when he played in the t20 world cup a few years ago. standing up, he is peerless. i wrote him into my putative test team when it became clear that prior wouldn't be back for a while, and nothig has changed - in fact, his inclusion is even more important now that prior won't be back for the conveivable.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2014, 5:54 GMT)

I feel compelled to add my opinion to this argument, being a keeper myself. To discount Foster on the basis of what he has done before at Test level is ridiculous. He was a young, raw keeper and neither that or his batting was anywhere near Test standard. He is, for me, the best keeper in the world at the moment, and his stumping last week in the Championship game was nothing short of genius. He can bat to a decent level, and as has been pointed out, he has a lot of experience and will be an asset for Cook in the field. I am firmly in the camp of picking your best keeper (my all time favourite Jack Russell was poorly treated by England), so, for what it's worth, James Foster gets my vote.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2014, 3:01 GMT)

I think Prior should come back when fit (on the evidence of his one championship innings I'd say he's on the verge of being right back in form, and he's also a much better gloveman than people give him credit!). However, I do think they should pick Foster for the first test if Prior doesn't make it. He's not a no-hoper with the bat by any means (averages over 37 in FC cricket) and would be a very solid fill-in player while Prior recuperates and Buttler develops. There will be enough inexperienced lads in the team that it'd be a risk to throw in Buttler as well, who has yet to convince as a batsman or a keeper in the long form.

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Andrew McGlashanClose
Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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