ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
World Cup 2011
Russell backs Prior experience
February 1, 2011
Jack Russell, England's wicketkeeper at the 1996 World Cup, believes that Matt Prior's aggression, maturity and vocal presence behind the stumps make him the right man for the job as the team prepares to return to the subcontinent for another tilt at a trophy that has eluded them for nine tournaments and 36 years.
Prior had not been part of England's limited-overs setup since the tour of Bangladesh in February 2010 when he was last month named as the surprise inclusion in England's World Cup 15, at the expense of the Surrey wicketkeeper, Steven Davies.
He overcame the embarrassment of back-to-back ducks in his first two matches of the one-day series in Australia to produce a hard-hitting 67 from 58 balls in their 21-run win in the fourth game at Adelaide, and he is expected to open the batting alongside Andrew Strauss when England's World Cup campaign gets underway in Nagpur on February 22.
Russell, who spent much of his own England career vying for the wicketkeeping duties with Alec Stewart, believed that Prior's time away from the team and his determination to reclaim the role would stand him in good stead for the tough campaign that awaits.
"I think the period out of the one-day side probably helped him, and it got his appetite back," Russell told ESPNcricinfo's Switch Hit podcast. "It made him realise it's not a given that he's in this team, so he went away and worked hard, and he's a very fine all-round cricketer now. He's an aggressive character who takes the game to the opposition, he's got that freedom mentally, and the belief that he can go out there and do his stuff with bat and gloves."
While Russell sympathised with Davies, who had seemed a shoo-in for the World Cup after performing competently throughout the one-day series in England last September as well as the first ODI against Australia in Melbourne, he believed that, at the age of 24, the younger man still had plenty to learn at the highest level - particularly when it comes to the cajoling in the field that is the duty of the man with the gloves.
"From a wicketkeeping point of view Prior is more of a driver, a leader in the field than the lad Davies, who's a little bit younger, and is still searching for his game if you like," said Russell. "Davies hasn't quite crossed those mental bridges yet, which allow him to feel he is running the show in the field. He is more quiet, whereas Matt will be in your face a bit more, and drive and push things forward, and you need guys like that when you're playing at that level, especially in a place like India."
Russell's own career was notable for his vocals behind the stumps, not least during his final years with Gloucestershire in the early 2000s, when he and Mark Alleyne were the heart and soul of their trophy-hoarding one-day side. "It was the last third of my career when I really worked out my game," he said. "I'd done my apprenticeship, and Matt's in that situation now. It's his job now to start pushing and shoving everyone else."
Prior produced a near-faultless performance in the Tests against Australia, in which he claimed 23 catches and rounded off the series with his maiden Ashes hundred. "You are running the show in the field, so it's hard to kick other people's backsides if you're not doing the job properly yourself," said Russell. "The bottom line is you never lose sight of the fact that you've got to catch every ball, and if you do that you can start bawling and shouting at everyone else.
"At the minute young Davies is still finding his feet at international level, but he needs to go up another gear in terms of adding a bit more aggression to his game with the bat and the gloves."
Fifteen years have now elapsed since the last World Cup in the subcontinent, and as was the case in 1996, England go into the tournament on the back of an arduous winter campaign, rounded off by a heavy and humbling one-day series defeat. Russell, however, believes the current squad will be strong enough to shrug off the indignity of their ODI setback, in the manner that he and his team-mates were unable to do when they were crushed 6-1 by South Africa all those years ago.
"I think this team could well be a stronger group mentally to deal with the fact we've lost the one-day series," said Russell. "Playing in Asia [compared to Australia] is like playing on another planet, so if you make a good start you can draw a line under what's gone on before and take it as a fresh start. I'm pretty sure there's enough mental strength in that group and the back-up staff will make sure the attitude is spot-on. I'd like to think there's no reason why we can't win the World Cup."
Jack Russell is compiling a book of paintings of English county grounds, due for publication by 2012