New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 5th day

Prior makes the most of his luck

Matt Prior's unbeaten hundred in Auckland put the seal on a magnificent series for him, with bat and gloves, and has rightly given him a strong claim to being the best in the world at his role.

Andrew McGlashan in Auckland

March 26, 2013

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Matt Prior pulls during his match-saving century, New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 5th day, March 26, 2013
Matt Prior once again proved his value to the English Test side, with a match-saving century © Getty Images
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Ed Smith, the former Kent and England batsman who is featured on this website, has written a book called Luck. We don't know if Matt Prior has read it, but he would now certainly be able to add a few thoughts about the concept.

His outstanding, match-saving hundred in Auckland owed much to a massive stroke of fortune when the ball, ricocheting down off his glove as he fended off a bouncer, lobbed towards the base of the stumps, striking them with reasonable force, and yet the bails remained firmly in place.

The significance of the bails staying on did not immediately register with the England camp. "It was a little bit too far out," Alastair Cook said. "But you do need a little bit of luck in those situations, and I suppose we did get a bit."

He was on 28 at the time and England were 207 for 6, still facing a huge task to salvage a draw in the match and the series, but 43 overs later Prior raised his arms in triumph after defending the final ball of the match from Trent Boult. It put the seal on a magnificent series for him, with bat and gloves, and has rightly given him a strong claim to being the best in the world at his role.

The unmovable bails were not his only heart-in-mouth moments, either. Two pulls, a shot he kept on playing even when runs were not the issue, just evaded fielders at mid-on and midwicket, and there were at least two inside edges that scooted past the stumps. At one stage, he gave Tim Southee, a bowler as luckless as Prior was lucky, a pat on the shoulder and pair shared a wry smile. This, though, was cut-throat Test cricket.

Brendon McCullum, an outstanding ambassador for his team throughout the series, was gracious amid his heartbreak: "There were twists and turns and half chances, little things you look back on and think 'if only', but I guess that all added to the drama. Take nothing away from the way Matt played, I thought it was an incredible innings played under severe pressure. He stood up and showed why he's the player he is."

If ever a cricketer deserved some things to go his way, it is Prior. It had previously been mentioned on the tour how selfless he is when he skipped his way to 82 in Wellington and departed looking for quick runs. That was not a one-off. He is the absolute team man and the embodiment of fighting spirit, although he isn't alone in this England team in that regard, as the final day showed. Ian Bell ended a disappointing series with a 271-ball, six-hour stay that brought back memories of his Cape Town heroics in 2010 and Stuart Broad defied his declining batting form to support Prior until the dying moments.

When Prior came to speak after the third day's play, with England a long away adrift in the match after a poor first innings, he was almost emotional in his defiance and determination that the team would be able to "fight" their way out of it. "We do it the hard way," he said, but the final moments in Auckland were taking it to extremes even for him.

With less than four overs to go Broad, whose 77-ball 6 was his second-best Test innings after the 169 against Pakistan, at Lord's, because it went so against the grain and James Anderson edged to slip off Kane Williamson in the space of three balls. When Anderson fell, Prior turned at the non-striker's end and took a deep breath, then practised a few more defensive shots. Walking out was Monty Panesar and, for at least one ball, as Williamson ended his over, Prior was helpless. All this work could have come to nothing just then. It almost did, but Panesar survived by the skin of his teeth.

 
 
This innings was the perfect example of staying true to your natural instincts and it highlighted, once again, what an outstanding batsman Prior is in his own right.
 

With three overs left, Prior tried to engineer the strike and with some help from Panesar - including a desperate dive from about halfway down the pitch that will probably already be on YouTube - Prior managed to face 14 of the last 19 deliveries.

"He's batted so well this winter, and got quite a few fifties, so it's great for him to get a hundred," Cook said. "It's amazing. You think he's batting out for a draw, and he still scores at strike rates quicker than I can when I'm batting normally. He just has this way of finding scoring shots and it was a great knock under a huge amount of pressure. He's had a fantastic winter."

This innings was the perfect example of staying true to your natural instincts and it highlighted, once again, what an outstanding batsman Prior is in his own right. After a series where England's four-man bowling attack has struggled for potency over lengthy periods, Prior's form will continue to spark the debate over whether it is now time for Andy Flower to bite the bullet and put faith in him as the No. 6, which would allow England another bowling allrounder at No.7.

There are valid arguments both ways: Australia rarely moved Adam Gilchrist from No. 7, but it is also important a team makes the best use of the players they have available. The likelihood is that Prior will stay where he is, more often than not producing just the innings England need at just the right time. Perhaps, though, he might not want to push his luck so much next time.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by 5wombats on (March 27, 2013, 23:00 GMT)

@gsingh7 on (March 27, 2013, 5:26 GMT) Did you really write that "New Zealand will never win the World Cup with such an attitude"? Please tell us what the 50 overs World Cup has to do with this 450 overs Test Match. AND did you write "New Zealand lacks mental strength"? Remind us please what were India's results in their Test series in England in 2011 and in Australia in 2011/12? And what was the result when England toured India 3 months ago? And yet you claim that "New Zealand lacks mental strength" even though they stood up to England in a way that India did not. Laughable. You really are very knowledgeable aren't you?

Posted by ozziespirit on (March 27, 2013, 18:12 GMT)

Prior is the best wicket keeper in the world, that much is fact, AB is just a long-stop and Prior pulls of the most athletic catches I've ever seen. But the keeper/batsman debate is clouded by the AB Vs Prior batting stats. They average almost the same, but Prior is more destructive certainly. The last Ashes he did what he does every game for England: take the game away from the opposing team with a devastating innings. And he remains in top form in an Ashes year.

Posted by SDHM on (March 27, 2013, 15:51 GMT)

@JG & 64b - Root & Woakes FC averages are virtually identical, although you can temper that by saying Root opens the batting & Woakes often comes in at 6 or 7. As JG points out though, Woakes has often rescued Warwickshire from disappointing starts, which shows a good temperament. I think Root has looked technically out of his depth against seam this series - not a good sign with NZ & Oz to come at home. Don't think the batting is England's main worry though - it's how toothless the attack looked at times. Finn's confidence in his new run-up drained visibly as the series went on & Broad is never likely to be consistent. I think the likes of Wright, Woakes, Roland-Jones, Meaker & Harris can really put the pressure on for a spot if they have good starts to the season, which is a good thing - I get the feeling England's clutch of seamers have gotten a bit comfortable and need a kick up the behind!

Posted by JG2704 on (March 27, 2013, 11:15 GMT)

@64blip - Sure but we don't know for sure. I believe Woakes averaged similar (if not better) last season with the bat and in the higher tier. As a Somerset fan I regularly monitored the top sides in div 1 and re Warwicks , I noticed they'd often go 4 or 5 down for less than 150 And Woakes (along with maybe Clarke or Barker) would come in and turn it around. Obviously he may never make the transition with bat or ball (if given the chance) but no one can say he couldn't even if Root has more talent. Yes Root did well yesterday but what did he do in the rest of the series? I'd want to try Woakes as an all rounder , more for his bowling. I feel throughout this series (and others) we lacked penetration with the ball so playing a 5/1/5 means someone has to go. Root or Bell.

Posted by Fluffykins on (March 27, 2013, 6:49 GMT)

@PPD Don't worry I asked that question and got all the stats telling me why he shouldn't be....But I agree with you, I mean lets be honest in recent times who would we really have wanted behind the sticks in our ODIs,the best test wicket keeper in the world or Kieswetter?

Posted by gsingh7 on (March 27, 2013, 5:26 GMT)

prior's luck seems to be real winner here apart from fulton grit and mccullum aggressive batting. nz once again fall short of finish line, they will never win wc with such attitude. they should follow india who were ruthless in 2011 to defeat all teams to win wc. nz lacks mental strength.

Posted by SamRoy on (March 27, 2013, 5:06 GMT)

@Xolile If you mean the batting ability of wicketkeepers then maybe you are correct. Otherwise, just wait for another couple of years and see how ABD performs as a wicketkeeper against spinners in India, SL and UAE. I still prefer Knott to Gilchrist and Flower. Good bat and one of the best ever behind the stumps.

Posted by Baxter_P on (March 27, 2013, 4:17 GMT)

I'd keep Prior at 7, and persevere with Root (at least for the NZ tests, then reassess before the Ashes). Root showed a lot of style in the ODIs, and character and tenacity at times in the tests. He seems likely to become a test quality No. 6. The issue is that England's 'tail' is a bit of problem. If Swann comes back in that helps, but I'd like to see Broad's batting improve towards the level he was at in 2010-11. Finn has shown he can bat a bit and is a decent No. 9 or 10, but ideally England need Broad to produce more runs consistently at No. 8 (an average of, say, 25 - his current career average). Root, Prior and an in-form Broad at 6-8 would rule out the need for a bowling all-rounder, and with Swann and Finn to follow, that's decent batting depth. Unless the next Flintoff materialises, of course. But I think the England XI is really well-balanced; besides SA, the best-balanced XI in world cricket.

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Andrew McGlashanClose
Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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