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Review: The Gloves are Off

A keeper remembers (sort of)

Matt Prior's up-and-down career makes for a readable story, but the juiciest bits are left out of his new book

Alan Gardner

September 14, 2013

Comments: 12 | Text size: A | A

Cover image of Matt Prior's <i>The Gloves are Off</i>
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Matt Prior has had an interesting year. In fact, he's had an interesting career. So it's a shame that his (first) autobiography, released in the slipstream of the Ashes, is something of a disappointment. The Gloves Are Off but this falls some way short of being a bare-knuckle account.

The impulse to tell Prior's story is understandable. He has come to symbolise the spirit within the England team dressing room - the wicketkeeper of the flame, if you like - and the importance of his role was exemplified by his part in the Kevin Pietersen affair of 2012. But his seniority has been hard won. From the perception in his early days as an England player that he was an "uneducated skinhead" who chirped too much and caught too little, Prior's journey to being ranked among the finest wicketkeeper-batsmen in the world is a compelling one.

Prior likens the keeper's role to that of a drummer in a band, setting the tempo for the team. Using that analogy, when he made his Test debut, against West Indies in 2007, the England position was like playing drums for Spinal Tap - the majority of Alec Stewart's numerous successors had met with ignominious ends (and one-day candidates are still spontaneously combusting with regularity).

Initially, Prior also seemed to be only passing through, and the book begins with "the ultimate nightmare" - being dropped. Hearing the news in early 2008, while on holiday in New York with his fiancée, sent Prior into tumult; the headline-making revelation from The Gloves Are Off is that he considered quitting the game entirely and auditioning to become a Major League slugger. However seriously that idea was entertained, what is perhaps even more remarkable is the extent to which Prior rebuilt himself as a serious international cricketer.

The detail of his relationship with Bruce French, the former England wicketkeeper charged with improving Prior's technique, is revealing. "We did start from scratch," Prior writes. "I had to learn how to catch the ball." At the time, he had played ten Tests. Eventually he came to be able to handle the "overload" work so beloved of French. Prior admits he "simply didn't do enough work" on his keeping before. Now his fastidiousness about kit and appearance extends to fitness and training, too.

Prior's frank, no-excuses outlook endears him to England fans and makes him an interesting, as well as likeable, subject. However, the problem for Prior and his ghostwriter, Steve James, is one inherent in the modern convention of players writing about careers that are as yet unfinished. That is, telling the reader everything they want to know will likely involve compromising the omerta of the dressing room.

A case in point is the episode that delineated Prior's significance within the team to a wider audience (and quite possibly won over a publisher, too). Phoning Pietersen in the wake of his Headingley revelations to try to broker peace demonstrated the responsibility Prior was willing shoulder - not to mention a level of maturity uncommon in elite sportsmen - but, inevitably, he discloses next to nothing about the discussion the two had.

There are interesting tidbits. He is honest about how the money on offer during the Stanford 20/20 for 20 farrago was a divisive issue, and describes calling out Allen Stanford over his "bullshit" explanation of how Prior's wife ended up being bounced on the publicity-hungry soon-to-be-exposed fraudster's lap as the TV cameras zoomed in. There are also diverting accounts of on-field brouhahas with various Australians - Simon Katich, Andy Bichel, Peter Siddle.

But, as with the Pietersen example, team confidences and loyalties act as a filter on potentially tantalising information. It's one thing not to name who threw jelly beans at Zaheer Khan (I'll save you the googling: Ian Bell remains No. 1 suspect) but refusing to reveal what the England players' victory song is seems a little precious. Another irritation is the frequency with which James has to rely on contemporaneous press quotes given by Prior rather than his subject's retelling of events.

The account signs off with Prior's pugnacious, jaw-jutting, match-saving hundred made in Auckland in March. When he was named England's Player of the Year for 2012-13 a couple of months later, a bashful Prior commented: "It's a fickle world, if I punch one on Thursday I'll be rubbish again." It is a sentiment echoed in The Gloves Are Off, when he writes: "You always worry that this game of cricket can kick you up the backside, so I tend to be wary of making big comments." Inevitably, in an age when personality is analysed as closely as performance, most players are cautious about their public pronouncements. But reticence does not a bestselling autobiography make.

That Prior has since experienced arguably his worst season with England is an irony that will not be lost on him, and should at some stage demand further personal reflection. Perhaps best to wait until the gloves are off for good.

The Gloves are Off: My Life in Cricket
by Matt Prior
Simon & Schuster Ltd
264 pages

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Rdean66 on (September 17, 2013, 15:20 GMT)

Shame he had to use the same title as Godfrey Evans did 53 years ago...

Posted by njr1330 on (September 15, 2013, 21:50 GMT)

Amongst the better cricket biogs. is Graeme Fowler's 'Fox on the Run'. Like the Trescothick book, it's not really about cricket; it's about the psychology of failure.

Posted by   on (September 15, 2013, 13:21 GMT)

@paul- what u said makes sense, but if opposition found him out then he wouldn't be averaging more than 40 in tests in the first place. And if defensive fields are an issue (not that they are uncommon in tests), he knows how to construct an innings, so he shouldn't be bothered by being restricted for a short time. Plus he can open and take advantage of field restrictions. His replacements have been ordinary anyway. I haven't seen butler, but from his stats he looks like just a slogger. Having said that credit goes to ECB for preserving him for important format, and not using him for too many meaningless ODI bilateral series, but for world tournaments u have to have prior.

Posted by shillingsworth on (September 15, 2013, 12:10 GMT)

Another day, another anodyne ghosted autobiography from a player yet to retire. Someone must buy them, otherwise they wouldn't be published, but why?

Why people always bring up the issue of Prior and ODIs is almost as much of a mystery as his poor record in them. Given the latter, it makes sense for him to focus exclusively on tests, particularly as Buttler is developing nicely.

Posted by   on (September 15, 2013, 12:05 GMT)

@Nutcutlet

I thought Atherton, Hussain and Steve Waugh's books were excellent, you might enjoy those if you haven't read them already. Trescothick's is stunning, I found it really hard to read because of the subject matter.

Posted by hijeshvl on (September 15, 2013, 10:53 GMT)

the one thing that surprised me most with English cricket is their selection of wicket keepers. when they have Matt Prior who is a excellent behind the wickets and aggressive and solid in front. he bats with high strike rate even in tests. despite all this he has no place in limited over formats. and they keep experimenting with many in both shorter formats without much success. why don't they consider prior instead.

Posted by   on (September 15, 2013, 9:55 GMT)

i like the guts and supportive attitude towords his fellow team members .this makes him a valuable member of english cricket team. good luck to him

Posted by Paul_Somerset on (September 15, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

Naman, opposition tactics and field settings are different in ODIs. In Tests Prior takes advantage of his skill and courage to exploit situations and take advantage of attacking fields.

In ODIs the tables are turned. The opposition knows how he plays and stifles it.

Prior ha been given countless opportunities in ODIs and failed to take advantage.

Besides, how else would England have been able to give exposure to Jos Buttler?

Posted by   on (September 15, 2013, 9:05 GMT)

i like the guts and supportive attitude towords his fellow team members .this makes him a valuable member of english cricket team. good luck to him

Posted by   on (September 15, 2013, 7:40 GMT)

Matt Prior is a brilliant cricketor and a wonderful batsman to watch. I have a question to all the England fans out here, why isn't he in the ODI side. I agree he shouldn't be wasting time playing these meaningless bilateral series, but major world tournaments, Matt Prior has to be the wicket keeper batsman. Since alec Stewart the other wicket keeper batsmen playing for England in ODI's have been ordinary, so prior should be given a shot. Plus if he does well in Tests he is bound to do well in ODI's.

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