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He was withdrawn from Sussex's rain-ruined return fixture against Middlesex at Merchant Taylor's School so he could undertake intense work with Bruce French, the England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.

Posted by landl47 on (May 30, 2014, 2:55 GMT)

Besides being a very good keeper, Foster does have a couple of things going for him. He's an Essex player, so he and Cook are familiar with each other, and he has considerable experience of captaincy which would be useful in a relatively inexperienced England side. It would give Cook three very experienced senior players (Anderson and Bell being the others) to rely on, which is important now that Swann and Prior are not available to call on.

I remember Bob 'Chat' Taylor coming in for Knotty and doing a wonderful job back in the late 70s/early 80s. Foster only turned 34 last month, a relative youngster by Brad Haddin's standards.

I'd give him a go. Bairstow and Buttler need more work on their W/K technique to be adequate keepers at test level.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2014, 2:02 GMT)

Do the sensible thing and play a real keeper. We'll beat Sri Lanka anyway because they'll have no answer in early summer England conditions. Playing someone like Bairstow is a waste of time because he's not good enough with either bat or gloves (yet) and while I'm a big fan of Buttler, if in Cook's own words 'he's not the finished article' then he really shouldn't be picked for the test team (yet). Foster, Read or Davies would be my choice. Prior had a bad time of it in the Ashes but his overall record speaks for itself. He's capable of making the team as a batsman alone (when in form) and his keeping is solid enough. Bringing him back when he's not match fit would be foolhardly though.

Posted by stumpedlloyd on (May 30, 2014, 1:11 GMT)

I'm stumped. Someone help me out here. Matt Prior was dropped in Australia not only because he was woeful behind the stumps, but also because his batting was awful. Has he set the county circuit on fire since then that he is "a big part of our plans," according to Cook? I realize Andy Flower has a lot of say, still, about the England side and Prior is one of Flower's golden boys. But surely there are other better 'keepers who also might be better with the bat playing county cricket right now.

Posted by Patchmaster on (May 29, 2014, 22:27 GMT)

Foster - best gloveman and form batsman.

Posted by Supersax on (May 29, 2014, 20:14 GMT)

I see the Foster fan club are out in force again. Don't get me wrong, he's a good keeper, but Read is better.

Read: 13655 runs @ 36.6, 21 hundreds and 933 dismissals. The majority in Division One.

Foster: 11612 runs @37.2, 19 hundreds and 695 dismissals. The majority in the underarm league.

Read is No.1 in my eyes.

Posted by Rupert147 on (May 29, 2014, 19:52 GMT)

Ah yes. The nostalgia brigade who truly believe Foster or even Read should stroll out of the wilderness to save England. Complete whimsical rubbish as neither were as good a keeper as all that. Foster never impressed as a keeper for England and that's why he disappeared from the radar. The fact that he couldn't bat in the top seven is a secondary issue. In the absence of Prior the only like for like replacement is Kieswetter. The selectors know this, the public will soon accept it but clearly the scented hankie brigade will never accept it. Maybe Bob Taylor might stride out from a hospitality marquee like many years before eh guys? Get a grip Foster fans and wake yourselves up.

Posted by Kavum on (May 29, 2014, 19:12 GMT)

2011; Lords; early June; Sri Lanka vs. England; shattered glass; Matt Prior; juvenile pique at dismissal; echoes of Lehmann's brotherly love for dusky South Asians; it all comes together in a drama that even Channel 4 would be challenged to creatively script as "news". As the famous lines from Les Mis go: "bring him home"!

Posted by MarkTaffin on (May 29, 2014, 18:48 GMT)

As much as I think Prior should have to work his way back into the side with proven county performances, a great number of his runs have been at Test level, Foster's mostly in CC2 where much of the bowling is dire. Foster may be the best keeper available but his batting is way off the level of his serious competitors, Bairstow and Kiesewetter

Posted by nickduewest on (May 29, 2014, 18:13 GMT)

@yorkshire86 - Foster was dropped by England at the age of 22 and has not been given another test since - he has not been shown not to be good enough - the difference between a really good keeper like Foster and the others is way more than 2% in catches taken and the leadership of a really good keeper can make a huge difference to a fielding side's performance (and unsettle the batsman) - In 1st class cricket Foster averages 37 and has scored 1 century every 17 innings Prior averages 39 and scores 1 century every 13 inns and Bairstow averages 42 and has 1 century for around every 14 innings ... the betting difference is nowhere near as marked as you suggest ... Foster is good enough a bat - Bairstow is nowhere near a good enough keeper - Buttler should give up keeping and concentrate on his batting and Prior ... why drop him and then bring him back for doing nothing? even if he is fit which looks unlikely

Posted by MarkTaffin on (May 29, 2014, 17:50 GMT)

Prior's been rubbish for 10 Tests, not just 3. And dropped. Yet he's still " a big part of our plans". Says much about Cook and England.

Posted by Jaffa79 on (May 29, 2014, 17:45 GMT)

So many people these days look to crowbar non keepers in the keeping position but this is such an error. How many chances do the greats give you? One? Two? You need your best man there. Foster should do the interim job and set the standard for Buttler to try and attain. Buttler needs a whole season working hard and possibly a Lions tour to the subcontinent to practice on those decks.

Posted by 2MikeGattings on (May 29, 2014, 17:21 GMT)

If Fozzy was the next cab off the rank the selectors would surely have tried him out in a shorter format. More's the pity - I think he would be an excellent selection.

Posted by yorkshire-86 on (May 29, 2014, 17:13 GMT)

Cook Robson Ballance Root Bell Stokes Prior Broad Jordan Anderson Panesar. Kieswetter if Prior is unfit, Taylor if Stokes is. Bell should NEVER NEVER NEVER be made to bat at three again, he was a total and utter failure whenever he has been tried there. Panesar is the best spinner, spin is what wins tests, so pick your best spinner regardless of his problems fielding/batting. Foster has been tried and is not good enough. The difference in keeping standard between the best first class 'pure' keepers (someone like Foster who catches 98% of chances) to a batsman/keeper (someone like Kieswetter, Bairstow, Prior, who all catch around 96% of all chances) is only 2%, while the difference in batting is HUGE - someone with a 30 average normally scores a century every 20 Tests while someone averaging 40 normally scores one every 6.

Posted by SirViv1973 on (May 29, 2014, 16:33 GMT)

@Rob Nibbs, I guess we all have our own ideas as to who should be in the XI but I am really struggling to find any justifcation for picking Tredwell. I know the spin cupboard is pretty bare but really? I'm not sure if you have seen his FC stats recently but he has only played 1 FC game this season where he had a modest return of 3 - 137 & last year he only managed 17 wickets for the whole season @ an ave approaching 60 and that was in Divison 2!

Posted by Dafffid on (May 29, 2014, 16:23 GMT)

Catches win matches. Pick the best keeper. Unless you have a batsman/keeper capable of scoring regular centuries, you're only going to gain 20-30 runs in two innings from the better batsman which is not going to win you the game, but one dropped catch or missed stumping can cost you the match.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (May 29, 2014, 15:59 GMT)

Truly a blessing for England. Nice time to give Butler a run and hopefully he will replace Prior permanently.

Posted by RodStark on (May 29, 2014, 15:54 GMT)

I'm baffled. Prior was dropped because he was completely out of form. What has he done since then to make us so desperate to get him back? Foster would be a much better choice in my opinion, maybe even not just as a stop gap.

Posted by hannibal_king on (May 29, 2014, 15:48 GMT)

FOSTER FOSTER FOSTER, he bats well in a crisis, fitness is amazing and the best gloveman in the last 25 years by a distance. Keeps up to pace, makes regular leg side stumpings and takes diving catches

Posted by   on (May 29, 2014, 15:44 GMT)

The team I would pick for the first test. Stoke and Broad have only just returned to cricket from injury so I'm leaving them out of the first test.

1.Cook 2.Root 3.Bell 4.Ballance 5.Vince 6.Morgan 7.Foster 8.Plunkett 9.Jordan 10.Tredwell 11.Anderson

12.Broad 13.Stokes

Posted by CodandChips on (May 29, 2014, 15:12 GMT)

I don't think Prior should be rushed back but I'm sure if he's slightly fit, he'll play. Buttler kept well yesterday but is still a work in progress with both bat and gloves. Bairstow isn't good enough with bat or gloves but I'm sure England see it differently. Kieswetter hasn't set international cricket alight and his keeping poor in my eyes.

We have 4 excellent glovemen in this country: Foster, Read, Davies and Bates. Davies is 27 and the best batsman of the 4, has done duty as a reserve keeper before so surely has the advantage of the actual wicket-keepers. However Davies has given p the gloves for the time being, so perhaps Foster should also be considered. The best gloveman in the country. Plenty of county experience, which does count for something. And to please the England selectors he's averaging 43 in the championship.

Last time Moores picked Prior, who was a batsman more than a keeper. It was only after he got dropped that he became an excellent keeper.

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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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