England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Headingley May 17, 2016

Prior backs Bairstow to cement keeper's role

Matt Prior, the former England wicketkeeper, has backed Jonny Bairstow to start the international season as a more complete gloveman after having some valuable time to work on his game.

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.

Jonny Bairstow has been in fine form for Yorkshire after a lengthy break from action © Getty Images

"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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dave on May 19, 2016, 12:27 GMT

    Sorry, but I think the wicketkeeping job should go to the one with the best hands. Batting is secondary. Although he has occasional lapses, in my opinion, Buttler is better behind the stumps, and his consistent 25-40 runs are a bonus.

    I know Bairstow had ton in SA, But that was in a match where everyone (except Taylor) scored runs, including 257 by Stokes. So, "nice to watch", but not that exceptional.

  • Richard on May 19, 2016, 7:57 GMT

    It's a pity those who criticise Bairstow's record as a keeper don't check their facts. In the few matches he has played as keeper he has one of the best records around in terms of victims per match. I accept that that is from a few matches, but it is still far better than Buttler's record from a similar number of matches. He can't be that bad. WOODY3 claims that he dropped 7 chances in one test - can he quote them chapter and verse ?

  • Chris Ward on May 19, 2016, 3:51 GMT

    Bairstow is a monster with the bat right now but it's a shame James Foster or Chris Read aren't ten years younger because a flawless keeper is essential. In the twilight of their careers they're both solid batsmen now. Bairstow fully deserves his place i just hope he doesn't spill someone who goes on to make a double ton.

  • David on May 19, 2016, 3:06 GMT

    I agree about looking forward to India, but then again maybe they don't have to look that far forward. He's dropping catches for pace bowlers in South Africa, nerves sure, but still, he's got Pakistan and Sri Lanka before he even gets to India.

    If ever there were a time for a specialist wicketkeeper it was now. Ali's batting talent is completely wasted at 8, James Taylors unfortunate exit opens up a spot at 5, Bairstow plays 5 for his county.

  • Steven on May 19, 2016, 0:33 GMT

    Prior is dreaming if he thinks Barstow is agood keeper any blind freddy can see the guy can't wicket keep its a stop gap measure at best there's got to be better keepers in England then Barstow let him focus on trying to become aregular batsmen in the team and go looking at guys like wheater or foakes as keeping options or Buttler or anyone else around that are good keepers good luck to Vince I believe u should been playing test cricket well before now u waited long enough now go and prove ur good enough

  • Shekar on May 18, 2016, 19:36 GMT

    Steven Davies??? No??? He has been scoring runs and has played as a pure batsman of late even insisting that he wanted the gloves back from Foakes who himself may be seen as an option.

  • ian on May 18, 2016, 18:04 GMT

    Bairstow is seven tenths batsmen and three tenths keeper, IMHO. I would rather find a wicketkeeper who is six tenths keeper and four tenths batsman. To me a proper keeper - and even encouraging Prior doesn't think Jonny B is that yet - is worth 50 runs or more every time he slips on the gloves. Prior himself was good, but he wasn't Alan Knott. It is about time Test match spectators were treated to the high skills of a pre-eminent keeper. Do we have to see 'a work-in-progress' keeper when watching a Test match? Do we say that of a opening bowler? We must be patient, X is a work in progress. I have no quibble with JB's Test place: let him focus on what he does best. In the subcontinent a proper keeper will be vital when high skill standing up to spinners will come to the fore. The selectors should be looking ahead by the time it comes to the Pakistan Tests later on. They could have started now, of course.

  • johnthekiwi on May 18, 2016, 15:39 GMT

    @Woody3: So true but the days of guys like Bob Taylor are gone I'm afraid. It is analogous to catchers in baseball. A great catcher doesn't have to hit a lick. A so-so catcher that hits a ton gets their mitt replaced with a 1B or OF glove. A player that can do both goes to the Hall of Fame. JB gets into this side on bat alone I feel but if that happens then basically one of Ali or Stokes sits because neither merits their place as a bowler yet. Sitting them disrupts the flexibility of the team. England have obviously determined that Bairstow will win more games for them with the bat than he will lose with a few whoopsies (as long as the drops don't cause mental issues for him at the crease). Time will tell I guess. I don't think there is an iota of difference between his keeping abilities and that of Buttler. Does England have a young all-glove-no-bat up and comer at the FC level? I guess I've never seen a test keeper who was an absolute rabbit and most get better with time.

  • Jon on May 18, 2016, 13:15 GMT

    How can someone who drops 7 chances in one test be considered first choice wicketkeeper? Thats not "a few mistakes", that a catastrophe. Play Bairstow as a batsman fine, but please not as wicketkeeper. For tests I would rather have a pure keeper who cant bat if Butler is not considered good enough.

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