Listen to this article
It looks like Matt Prior’s second Test match at Lord’s is going to be less productive than his first. A tame Indian bowling performance and yet more rain in this miserably wet English summer confined England’s new wicketkeeper-batsman to the pavilion until deep into the second day of the match, whereupon he was dismissed cheaply and promptly dropped a catch before picking up Rahul Dravid.
At least his confinement should have given him the opportunity to study the Lord’s honours board listing every player who has made a Test match century at the ground. Already this affords evidence of the impressive start the Sussex gloveman has made to his Test career.
“I just remember feeling ready,” he says of his debut against the West Indies in May, when he was one of four England batsmen to make a first-innings century. “I’m a big believer in preparation. There’s a phrase that I like to use, ‘Get nervous early’.”
Interviewed this week, Prior, 25, comes across as a pragmatic, modern cricketer who has pursued his ambition to play for England single-mindedly from soon after his arrival in the country from South Africa at the age of 11.
Along with Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen, Prior is one of three South African-born players in the present England line-up. So when I ask him if he absorbed anything that helped him succeed from the land of his birth, his answer is instructive.
“I did learn some very good values and basic skills,” he says. “One of them is competitiveness. In South Africa it’s different, because from a very young age you are taught to win.
“[In] school cricket games, quite a few times [after I had come to England], I was summoned to the headmaster’s office for being too competitive. I’m thinking, ‘Hold on a minute we want to win games don’t we?’”
Prior clearly chooses his mentors well. He has had a long association with Peter Moores, the former Sussex coach and wicketkeeper turned England coach. He is also close to Alec Stewart, the former England and Surrey wicketkeeper-batsman, who is now a director of Arundel Promotions, Prior’s management company.
The only time a note of sentimentality creeps into his responses is when discussing Jack Russell, the inimitable former Gloucestershire and England wicketkeeper.
“It’s brilliant to watch someone like Jack. I love it,” he says. “He helped Gloucester so much with their one-day cricket, being able to stand up to all their bowlers.”
Ironically, Russell – whose last Test was in 1998 – would probably have struggled to win anything like his 54 Test caps were he playing today. This is because the Australian Adam Gilchrist has broken the mould. Post-Gilchrist, Test wicketkeepers are expected to make meaningful batting contributions. If you can average 49 with the bat (like Gilchrist), rather than 27 (like Russell), you can afford an extra wicketkeeping blooper a match and still be in credit is the cold modern logic, particularly if your inclusion allows selection of an extra bowler.
“I don’t think so,” Prior says when asked if it is still conceivable to have an international wicketkeeper so good you would pick him even if he couldn’t bat. “Having a ’keeper that bats is now vital in a team.”
For now, Prior’s forceful but elegant batting is probably rated more highly than his wicketkeeping, with some finding fault with his footwork when behind the stumps. After keeping regularly to Mushtaq Ahmed, the Pakistani spin maestro, at Sussex, however, he is clearly relishing the prospect of working with Monty Panesar, the best attacking spinner England have had for some years.
“When Mushtaq first arrived at Sussex he came and grabbed me and for the first week after training every day he would bowl 10 overs at me,” Prior recalls. “That was because he knew he was reliant on me for stumpings and catches. Even then, after three years, Mushie will every now and then throw in a wrong ‘un that I don’t pick ... and it’s the same with Monty.
“The one thing Monty does get is a lot of bounce. That has been the main thing; getting used to this extra bounce that he generates. And also the pace at which he bowls. He bowls quite quick.”