Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Matt Prior, and why England have nothing to fix

Before this series started, I said that Matt Prior is the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world. I'm only repeating that because at Lord's he proved me right - he put together two excellent innings filled with exciting strokes down at number seven (the second one recovering England frmo a potential collapse to a position of dominance, capped with another test century), as well as keeping expertly at the notoriously difficult Lord's.

Buoyed by this success, the calls for a Prior promotion are gathering. A test average of over 45 with six centuries certainly proves that Prior could easily bat in the top six - indeed he could even bat higher if required. Eoin Morgan, for all of his limited over success, is yet to ignite in his nascent test career, and is not yet 100% assured of his place. Promoting Prior to six would allow England to bring in Tim Bresnan at seven, and play an extra bowler.

There is logic to this idea - the injury to Zaheer on Thursday proved the fragility of a four-man attack, and adding an extra seamer would both help lighten the load on the others, and provide a supplementary option if all isn't going well for the main foursome.

However, the balance of the side would be distorted in quite an unsettling way. First off, England are losing a very good batsman in Eoin Morgan, and replacing him with a bits and pieces bat in Tim Bresnan. They'd also be adding to a bowling attack that doesn't really need adding to. They had no problems in taking 20 wickets at the bowler's graveyard that is Lord's, so why would they need any assistance at the much preferred Trent Bridge? But crucially, the biggest mistake to changing the balance of the team would be moving Matt Prior.

Prior's success over the past few series has been when he's batted at number seven. His quick scoring rate (he knocks along at a test strike rate of 66 - pretty rapid) is best implemented at the number seven position, either to counter-attack and put England back onto the front foot (as he did in the second innnings on Sunday) or to further drive home the advantage against weary bowlers (as he did in his Ashes century at Sydney). Moving him up or down the order would negate the effect of his runs; either adding undue pressure or removing his significance on proceedings.

The old saying goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and given England's consistency in selection over the past few years, we're almost certain to see an unchanged side at Trent Bridge when the two sides line up again on Friday. And given the remarkable rise of Matt Prior from the earringed lout of his early test days to today's world-class performer, expect him to show why he's leapt to his highest ranking in the world with yet another high-class performance.

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