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World Cup 2011

Prior unfazed by opening issues

Sidharth Monga in Colombo

March 23, 2011

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Matt Prior's good start ended abruptly when he lost his middle stump to Andre Russell, England v West Indies, World Cup, Group B, March 17, 2011
Matt Prior has opened in more than half of his 67 ODIs to date, but he has still to perfect the role © AFP
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Players/Officials: Matt Prior
Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
Teams: England

Matt Prior believes he is one good innings, and just needs "one or two things to click", before he turns his form around at the top of England's order. Prior had to take on the opener's role after Kevin Pietersen, the original choice to partner Andrew Strauss, had to leave early for a hernia operation. His two digs at the top have been forgettable, a brain-freeze stumping against Bangladesh and a wasted start against West Indies when he was beaten for pace and movement by Andre Russell.

Prior doesn't know just yet if he will get another chance to set that record straight. "When I was told I would be opening when KP went down, it wasn't a done decision for the whole tournament," he said three days before the quarter-final against Sri Lanka. "There wasn't a decision made that I would be opening for the rest of the competition.

"Do I want to open? Of course I do," he added. "I love opening the batting. It gives you the best opportunity to bat 50 overs and get a big score for your team. It hasn't gone to play, and that's a frustration for me, but I don't feel far away. I know that if I do open, a big score is around the corner. I am hitting the ball well, one or two things going my way, and I will get a big score."

One of the reasons why Prior might not open again is that he himself is not sure if the opening slot is the best utilisation of his strengths as a batsman. "My stats would suggest not," he said. "I haven't scored the runs that I would have wanted, which is hugely frustrating for me. I know I can play that role really, really well. I seem to do the hard work, and then get out, which is hugely frustrating.

"Over here, one of my key strengths is moving the ball around in the field, especially when the spinners are on, and that's a part of my game that I back. Probably it has to be utilised as well. Whether that means I open or bat a little bit further down the order, I don't really know. All I know is that wherever I am batting, there will be a reason for it."

Prior still believes he has the technique to do well when opening. "I have opened in county cricket," he said. "Obviously it is a step up, we all know that. In Test cricket I have scored hundreds. When people mention technique and all that, it's just not it at all. You don't score hundreds in Test cricket if you have got a poor technique."

His opportunities at the top of England's one-day order have been numerous, with 35 of his 67 appearances coming as an opener, dating back to the tour of Zimbabwe in 2004-05. However, he has managed just two half-centuries in those games, the most recent being a run-a-ball 67 against Australia at Adelaide back in January.

"It's just that something hasn't clicked," he said. "Early on in my one-day career, when I opened, I felt pressure to take that role on as a pinch-hitter. And that sort of gave me a poor start. I was getting to 20s and 30s, and then sort of carried on playing too many shots, and getting caught in the deep or whatever it might be. Going into this phase of my ODI career, I am trying to find a different tempo.

"I have done that at times, but just not had a great run of luck," he added. "Things like going back to the Australia series, the Sydney game, I do the hard work [18 from 23 balls] and then Mitchell Johnson bowls me an absolute beauty. Just little things like that, where you start thinking, 'Hang on a minute, this is just not meant to be'."

"But you are only one innings from turning it around. And it does turn around very very quickly," he said. "The belief in my ability that I have and my team-mates have is still there. We know we are in the quarter-final, and that's very exciting. If I do open, I have got an opportunity to put my hand up, play an innings that gets us into the semi-final of the world cup. What's gone before is irrelevant. Certainly if you play that innings, people in this job have very short memories. I have got a huge amount of belief, and I just need one or two things to click. That big innings is around the corner."

Prior can expect to find out his batting position by Thursday's practice session at the latest, but he said that would not pose a huge problem in the preparation side of things. "We have been on tour for a long time," he said. "We have hit a lot of cricket balls, we have played a lot of cricket balls, bowled a lot of cricket balls over the last six months.

"It's not the netting, it's more the mental side of the game. Who are you going to be facing? Who are you going to come out against? The situation of the game you might be confronted with. It's obviously different from opening to batting in the middle order. You want to find that as soon as possible. The more time you have, the better. That's a vital part of getting ready for the game, the mental side of it."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Dummy4 on (March 23, 2011, 17:54 GMT)

Like all England batters Prior has a whole host of pre-prepared cliches to fall back on and wastes no opportunity to use them. Well his good innings had better come soon or he may not get another chance in this competition. IMHO he shouldn't even be in the squad, much less opening in such an important game, but that's another story.

Posted by joel on (March 23, 2011, 17:53 GMT)

Steven davies should have opened with Strauss from the start , Kp wasnt interested in the world cup only in his IPL contract .Although Mat prior can be a very destructive batsmen coming in at 6 or 7 , as his stats clearly prove . He is going to struggle against the moving ball at pace ! , at the start of a match . Goodluck England

Posted by Jackie on (March 23, 2011, 16:18 GMT)

Given that opening is such an important position, it is amazing that England management has such a cavalier attitude towards it. Is it really a good idea to let the batsman know on the eve of the game for such an crucial match? Bell has a much better record opening but wasn't even in the frame when Flower chose Prior and dropped Davies. The latter looks like poor judgement now. Whoever opens will find batting difficult in Colombo. Strauss take note.

Posted by Siroson on (March 23, 2011, 12:26 GMT)

Best possible line up will be Prior at top because even if gets out Trott wont throw his wicket away, whereas if Prior fails at lower order like in india, ireland matches then there is noway a batsmen below him to help the situation. Andersen must replace Tremlet because ball will swing at night in Colombo. May be room for Dernbach and attack SL openers with leg-stump line. Best XI: Strauss, Prior, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Bopara, Wright, Bresnan, Swann, Tredwell/Yardy/Dernbach, Andersen.

Posted by John on (March 23, 2011, 12:15 GMT)

Prior lacks the mental discipline to be an opener. As he says himself, he gets a few then gets out. He'd be much better coming in at 6 and getting a quick 20. My preferred team (out of those that are left) would be Strauss, Bell, Trott, Bopara, Morgan, Prior, Wright, Bresnan, Tredwell, Swann, Anderson. Hopefully two out of Strauss, Bell and Trott will come off and make a big score, which they've all shown they can do. Then the middle and lower order will be free to make some quick runs at the death.

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