The outright exclusion from England’s Test, One Day and Lions squads of Matt Prior was this weeks’ big news. Whilst Prior has shown an aptitude for scoring runs at the highest level, against the highest calibre of bowler, the bread and butter business of taking catches has let him down. Many people worried when Prior was first given the gloves that England had another Geraint Jones on their hands, neither good enough with the bat or the gloves to hold the position of England’s wicket keeper. I personally never doubted his ability to deliver the runs. His showings for the ODI side in Pakistan and India were never a true reflection of his ability. Unfortunately though, Prior is not the best wicket keeper in the country and further more he is not even currently in the top five when it comes to catching the ball.
To begin with though, it seemed as though exposure to International Cricket would bring the best from Prior and it served as a boost to his glove work. His performances in the crucial ODI series victory over India were faultless and a few mistakes in the preceding Test matches were seemingly forgotten and forgiven. However, then injury struck. Phil Mustard took over, but he simply proved the fact that brilliant county form means nothing at International level. Whilst he got starts with the bat against Sri Lanka he was far from the player he is for Durham and that was to be expected. So Prior soon returned for the Test match series in Sri Lanka and performed admirably, along with Ian Bell, in the first Test match, prompting the likes of Sam Lyon, Alec Stewart and Jack Russell, amongst others, to declare the arrival of England’s wicket keeper for the next decade.
Oh how the mighty fall though. Less than one month later and Prior has been jettisoned. Eight drops off of Ryan Sidebottom and crucial misses off of Mahela Jayawardene proved to be too much for England’s selectors. Yet his demotion need not be for good according to David Graveney, who has stated that if Prior can improve his glove work away from the media spotlight, then he can reclaim his place and fulfil his undoubted potential as England’s future wicket keeper batsman. It is unlikely that Prior’s replacement will average 40.14 from 17 Test Innings against West Indies, India and Sri Lanka away. However, they will hopefully hold on to more catches, which is the primary job of the wicket keeper. If they do not make runs though, you can guarantee that England will struggle because of their brittle tail and the wicket keeping debate will return to the discussions between cricket lovers up and down the Land once again.
So Colonel Mustard finds himself able to make the first move on Prior’s old job. He will keep wicket in the ODI’s in New Zealand and should he succeed he should in theory be given a chance in the Test series which follows. If not, then Tim Ambrose, once Prior’s deputy at Sussex, will step into the void and become England’s sixth wicket keeper in the space of a year. Whilst all this is ongoing and the likes of Geraint Jones, Chris Read, Paul Nixon, Prior, Mustard and Ambrose are mulling over their International careers, whether past, present or future, there is one player who goes quietly about his work at Essex, continuing to excel with the gloves and perform well with the bat. He is of course James Foster, once the man in possession, discarded because of injury and now seemingly forgotten about. With every passing wicket keeper, his stock grows. However, until he averages more with the bat on a home ground which is often one of the most conducive to batting in the country, he will it seems remain on the periphery of the England set-ups' radar. One further candidate exists, Steven Davies of Worcestershire. Demotion to Division Two will not help his cause, but the young man will be expected to come of age in the next year or so. Let the merry-go-round continue…