Matt Prior has become England’s Adam Gilchrist. He now has a better Test batting average than any previous England wicketkeeper. His recent productivity has enabled him to overtake Les Ames, the legendary Kent and England gloveman, in the batting stakes.
But the average of 44 plus is only half the story. Prior is a game changer. It’s the tempo of his innings that are influential in England’s emergence as potentially the No.1 team in the world. His instinctive belligerence makes him a natural counter-attacker. He’s in half an hour and you look up and he’s got 30.
He was always an aggressive and talented batsman. His power through the offside was well known. He has an added two extra ingredients. Firstly an ability to pick up runs on the leg side as bowlers look to concentrate on a straighter line to deny him his offside expression. He works the ball efficiently off his pads.
Second he has added a short game to his undoubted power. With neat, light footwork he gets back on his stumps and nurdles spin to deep square leg or sweeps it off the stumps. As soon as the spinner pitches it up he carves it through cover. He is very good at manipulating the bowler’s length. He hits the ball generally in funny, undefendable places.
The other really noticeable aspect of his innings is his running. There is no fitter or more committed man in the team. He spends training days wearing a bungee which is harnessed to his keeping coach Bruce French, dragging him about to strengthen his quads. He hustles between the wickets in the manner of Australia’s Dean Jones, getting low in the turn and using his hand to push off and get back for two. He bristles with aggression.
His third century at Lord’s, to go with his 71 in he first innings, was a classic example of how to wrestle the initiative. 62 for 5 was smoothly converted into 200 for 6 with the help of Morgan and especially Broad. Prior’s belligerence and resourcefulness was the catalyst.
He was lucky not to be confronted by Ishant Sharma for the first 35 minutes after lunch, but he dealt expertly with Harbhajan Singh, refusing to let him build up any pressure and soon England were out of trouble. Once England were past 200 he could free his mind and express himself a bit, and a few meaty blows ensued. There weren’t quite Gilchrist-like in appearance but had the same effect, knocking the stuffing out of the opposition, so that by the end they looked a ragged bunch.
Kevin Pietersen might have won the man of the match award with his first innings double century, but Prior might be the first to point out that second innings runs should count double.