Matthew James Prior
February 26, 1982, Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa
Right hand Bat
Brighton College, East Sussex
A skilled wicketkeeper standing back, pugnacious batsman in the traditional keeping spot of No. 7 and a stout upholder of the team ethic, Matt Prior was a crucial cog in the machine that led England up the Test rankings. He cut a similar figure to Alec Stewart with his no-nonsense positivity, even if he did not quite possess the same fastidious attention towards his appearance.
Prior's reputation reached its peak after England's tour of New Zealand in 2013. He saved the final Test in Auckland, and the series, with a defiant, out-of-character century - batting for four-and-a-half hours for an unbeaten 110, an innings which epitomised England's spirit. He won England's Player of the Year award and his ability to rouse the mood with Churchillian speeches led him to be named as vice captain for the Ashes tour to Australia in 2013-14. But back-to-back Ashes tours treated him unkindly, bringing a marked slump in his form and his keeping standards and he made only one fifty in eight Tests; even that, a counterattacking affair in Perth with the game lost, had an air of desperation. He was dropped for Jonny Bairstow for the final two Tests in Australia and, although he still possessed a Test average above 40, began the 2014 county season with Sussex with his Test spot seriously in question.
He was patched up for the first four Tests of the summer - two against Sri Lanka and two against India - but his long-standing Achilles problems severely hampered his wicketkeeping and a subsequent operation revealed such damage that it was amazing he had even taken the field. The last thing he needed was for his commitment to the cause to be demeaned so savagely at the end of the season in Kevin Pietersen's autobiography. He admitted that he was not entirely sure his first-class career could be salvaged and, with an eye to the future, committed his energies to forming a cycling team. With hindsight, it proved a shrewd move and he announced his injury-induced retirement in June 2015.
Prior moved to England from South Africa and represented England at all ages, up to and including Under-19s, making his Sussex debut in 2001 as a 19-year-old. He was selected to tour Zimbabwe as part of England's one-day squad in November 2004 and played in just one match, striking 35. He made England's winter squads for Pakistan and India in 2005-06, but played mostly as a batsman in the ODIs and failed to make any real impact. He missed out on the Champions Trophy in October 2006 but was named in the Academy squad to be stationed in Perth during the 2006-07 Ashes series.
Geraint Jones and Chris Read flunked their chances during England's shambolic Ashes campaign, which meant Prior was ready to step into the Test side and launch Peter Moores' period at the helm. He began in thrilling fashion, becoming the first England wicketkeeper to score a century on debut with an unbeaten 126 at Lord's, followed by 75 at Headingley, and England's wicketkeeper problem looked settled. But no sooner was the position sorted than things started going awry. He struggled against India and was a key protagonist in the jellybean fiasco that goaded Zaheer Khan to bowl out England at Trent Bridge before a grim tour to Sri Lanka exposed deep flaws in his keeping. Some misplaced levels of sledging also did not endear him to everybody and he was dropped for England's tour of New Zealand in 2008, with his old Sussex rival, Tim Ambrose - now at Warwickshire - taking the gloves.
But Prior's extra batting class could not be ignored for long, and he returned to the side before the year was out, with his keeping vastly improved during his spell on the outside. He was one of the unsung heroes of England's Ashes triumph in 2009, providing momentum-shifting cameos at No. 6 in the order, and pulling off a series of impressive catches and stumpings. He bettered that effort on the subsequent tour of Australia in 2010-11, claiming 23 catches in the series including an Ashes-record-equalling six in the first innings at Melbourne, and concluded the series with his first hundred against Australia, at Sydney. He made 271 runs at 67.75 during England's 4-0 home triumph against India the following summer as both he and England, who went to No. 1 in the Test rankings, reached a career high. Fielders standing around point were likely to be under assault if a bowler gave him any width outside off stump. At that juncture he was among several contenders as the most effective wicketkeeper-batsman in Test cricket.
But he never quite convinced England about his aptitude in one-day cricket. For such a belligerent batsman he was a disappointment, especially in ODIs. He was not exactly short of caps - 68 when, at only 29, he played what looked as if it would be his last ODI against Sri Lanka in a 10-wicket hammering in the 2011 World Cup semi-final in Colombo - but an average below 25 and a strike rate of 76 were statistics that must disappoint him.
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