Prior backs Bairstow to cement keeper's role
Bairstow took over the gloves from Jos Buttler in the final Test against Pakistan in Sharjah - after Buttler's runs dried up - then retained them for the series against South Africa. While he cemented his standing as a batsman of pedigree by scoring a maiden Test century in Cape Town, his work behind the stumps remained under scrutiny with chances being missed.
After the Test series Bairstow did not feature in the ODIs and was not part of the World T20 squad. Apart from a one-match flying visit to the Pakistan Super League in the UAE he was able to take a break from the middle until pre-season with Yorkshire and Prior believes it will have been time well spent.
"You have one guy who is scoring a lot of runs but has made a few mistakes behind the stumps and one guy whose glovework had gone up a huge amount but wasn't scoring the runs," Prior told ESPNcricinfo. "Jonny is the man in possession, he did well in South Africa with the bat and he's had time to go away and work on the things with his wicketkeeping.
"I think this period has been quite good for Jonny, he's been out of the shop window, and he's been able to go to the training ground and work hard. It's very hard to make huge improvements while playing Test cricket, with so much scrutiny, 26 cameras on you, super slo-mo. I'm sure he's used that time well to go away and work on areas, he's a hugely determined guy and very resilient as well."
While Prior advocates consistency in the position, he also believes that having two players hot on the heels of each other can benefit both. Buttler has continued to be a force in the white-ball game with back-to-back ODI hundreds against Pakistan and South Africa, the first of them off 46 balls in Dubai to surpass his own record for England's fastest. He has since gone on to establish his credentials as a world-class T20 batsman as well, with a starring role in England's World T20 campaign and an impressive maiden IPL season with Mumbai Indians.
"It's a really exciting time in that role because there are two fantastic cricketers in Jos and Jonny and they will push each other, but also use that pressure to get the best out of themselves," Prior said at the Chance to Shine MCC Spirit of Cricket Day at Lord's.
Prior's international career ended two years ago when he succumbed to an Achilles injury having made a Test comeback on Sri Lanka's previous visit to England. He retired from all cricket last year after a lengthy attempt to recover. But, after a 79-Test career in which he scored 4099 runs, the third-most by an England wicketkeeper, and claimed 256 dismissals, second behind Alan Knott, he was assured a place as one of England's finest.
Like Bairstow, though, Prior had to come through a period in which his glovework underwent forensic examination and he was dropped after the tour of Sri Lanka in 2007. When he returned in late 2008 he did not relinquish his spot - except for a one-off Test in West Indies in 2009 to fly home after the birth of his son - until the Ashes had been surrendered in 2013-14.
On the tour of Australia it was Bairstow to whom he handed the gloves and he has passed on advice to both him and Buttler since the end of his England career, something he is more than happy to continue to do should either of England's current keepers want any further guidance.
"I've spoken to both of them at different points, Jos when he was in Sri Lanka and I spoke to Jonny when he was in South Africa, and it's quite interesting being able to look in from the outside - things sometimes look a bit clearer than when you are in the fog and haze of the England bubble. They both know that I'm here if they want advice at any time."
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo