Sympathy for the devil
The man who scored a ton on his debut at Lord's earlier this summer wouldn't have dreamed that people would be baying for his blood by the end of that same summer. Every move Matt Prior makes now is closely monitored or, in this case, every move he doesn't make. He has dropped a few crucial catches, conceded a few byes too many (some of them were ridiculously wide and out of reach) and, unfortunately, things haven't been too rosy even in front of the stumps. He has also been advised to keep his trap shut and concentrate on the job, something that probably wouldn't have been said if he hadn't messed up.
Apparently, while keeping, Prior does a little shimmy of sorts before making his final movement towards the ball, and experts think that that could be the reason for his poor footwork. I'm no expert on keeping and perhaps whatever everyone has said or written about Prior's skills or the lack of them is correct, but I know one thing for sure - what Prior must be feeling at the moment. Though I'm thrilled about India's rare and special feat, one can't, sitting here in England and reading and watching the English media, but feel a bit for Prior.
Ideally you should be oblivious to what is being written and said about you, especially when the chips are down. Ideally you should back the skills that have brought you so far, and if there's something to be improved, it should be done in the off-season or during a break. But does it work that way? Ask anyone who has been out there in the middle and knows what it's like to be in the doghouse and the answer will an overwhelming "No".
When you play international cricket, you're exposed to a world where every move is watched, every achievement appreciated, and every weakness exposed. A lot of experts and ex-cricketers are always around, waiting to spot flaws, writing and speaking about them, dissecting each one in gory detail, though they're only doing their jobs and, to give them credit, they're also generally willing to help you iron out those chinks.
Still, you end up with too much information and a limited span of time in which to act on those recommendations. You need to first assess if it's worth taking that information on board - you need to consider if it fits in with your game, since many of these people who are offering advice will not have watched your career develop and grow over the years, and one man's medicine could be another's poison. Second, even if you do decide to change things, there's hardly any time between Test matches, or even series, to do so. You desperately want to improve, impress and perform, and when things aren't going well it does seem that the entire world is against you. It's only human to try and change something in your technique if you think that could have a positive influence on your performance. But by doing so you tend to forget the task at hand.
It's only human to try and change something in your technique if you think that could have a positive influence on your performance. But by doing so you tend to forget the task at hand
In Prior's case, when something has gone wrong, when he has conceded a bye or dropped a catch or messed up a chance for someone else by trying too hard (like when he dived in front of Andrew Strauss during this Test, attempting to take what would have been a sitter for first slip), it's quite natural to think about that little shimmy.
After having myself gone through the process of trying to change things in next to no time and failing, I can say for sure that Prior isn't as bad as he is being made out to be. He must have, in the past, kept better than he is keeping now; a major reason for his falling apart could be a lack of belief in his skills and an inability to handle being exposed under pressure.
Excessive criticism can lead to self-doubt and I can assure you that when you are just starting out on an international career, it is natural to doubt yourself. At least the first time around. It requires tremendous character, lots of confidence, and a strong belief in your skills to turn a blind eye to everything that's being written and said about you. During this time you desperately need someone, someone you admire and respect, to put an arm around your shoulder and tell you to chill a bit, focus on doing the things that brought you this far, and give yourself time to get your act together. I hope someone's chatting to Prior.
Should the critics lay into or lay off Prior? Let us know here
Former India opener Aakash Chopra is currently playing league cricket in Staffordshire, and for the MCC