James Anderson, Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook and the likes may have been termed as the chief architects behind England’s rise to the number one ranking. However, there is one key performer who has done a crucial job as well, but hasn’t got enough credit for all his hard work. His name is England’s wicket-keeper batsman Matt Prior. On numerous occasions, like on Sunday, Prior has played critical knocks that have either rescued the side, or put them in a position of strength, depending on the situation of the match. This quality of his batting has come to the fore in the past two seasons more than before, making him an invaluable asset to the side.
The specialty of Prior’s batsmanship is that he scores his runs at a fair clip by playing authentic cricket shots. What makes his knocks even more worthy is the fact that most of his runs come when he is batting with the tail. In short, he does the job of shepherding the lower order as well as scoring important runs for the team. He bridges the gap between the batsman and the bowlers, which means he can also form a partnership with a proper batsman if someone has been at the crease for a long time.
Prior’s consistency with the bat has been another aspect of his game which has impressed many. He averages a healthy 42 in 57 Tests with 21 half-centuries and as many as six hundreds. In the past season, during which England have climbed the rankings, the top order batsman and specialist bowlers have taken away most of the credit. But, Prior’s contribution should not be forgotten. On more than one occasion, he has rescued the team from trouble and taken the side to a position of safety. In other times, he has managed to up the ante so that the bowlers get enough time to blow away the opposition.
Come to think of it, Prior’s rise to being England’s first choice wicket-keeper wasn’t an instant one. Ever since Alec Stewart hung up his boots at the raw age of 40, England struggled for a suitable replacement. The likes of Chris Reid, James Foster came and went without making much of an impact. In recent times, the competition had narrowed down to Tim Ambrose and Prior. Ambrose was preferred for a while since Prior’s wicket-keeping wasn’t up to the mark in his early days in international cricket nor was his batting extraordinary to help him retain a place in the playing XI.
England without Prior, however, now seems like an unimaginable scenario. Such has been the improvement the wicket-keeper bat has shown in his second coming. And we are not only referring to his batting, but wicket-keeping skills as well. Slowly but steadily, Prior has become an inseparable member of the England squad. A quality player, who has been the unsung hero behind England’s rise to the pinnacle.
--By A Cricket Analyst