Saturday, 5 January 2008

Will you be staying long Colonel?!

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…


Richard Lake said...

This decision has mystified me to be honest. For years, we have discarded our best wicket-keeper for a batsman wicket-keeper. Now we pick as our first choice keeper, the one with the lowest batting average in League 1.

If we want a keeper without worrying about the batting then surely Chris Read is the only choice. If we want a batsman regardless, then Prior has shown that he has the ability at test level. For a great combination of the two, then I'd agree with Chris about James Foster.

Tim Ambrose and Steve Davies have promise, as does the Colonel. However, being picked when promising has ruined the careers of Read and Foster, who are still remembered for those faltering displays.

Personally, I'd pick Read every time as I am a firm believer in real wicketkeepers, as I wrote in an article in August. However, having started with Prior, then he does merit perseverence, particularly as his problem appears to be technical rather than ability.

And if Prior is to be replaced, then I really don't see Mustard as being the right choice.

Tim said...

Good piece Chris. I think it was the right decision on balance - he batted with gumption but his keeping is just not up to it.

I agree about Mustard though. Ambrose seems better equipped with bat and gloves (he averaged 70 in one-day cricket last season) to do well at international level. From what I know, I think he is probably the best overall package.

The Atheist said...

My understanding was that Ambrose will put on the gloves during the tests and Mustard will keep at ODIs. For obvious reasons...

I think that we're gradually accepting that there is no one person that can answer our prayers. All the candidates are lacking in some way.

So, it seems the solution to this is pick one (whoever, really, I don't care who) and stick to him until 2009. Prior should not have been dropped. And I'm pretty sure that Mustard and Ambrose, because of the bizarre nature of the ECB's solution, will not get a clear run to the Ashes.

Innocent Abroad said...

Perhaps we're all looking at the wrong problem.

Just why is England's tail so weak? No other country in the top five or so plays more than two rabbits, some only one. Most have a #8 who can get runs, even tons or nearly so.

I've never seen a discussion of this issue, let alone an explanation.

Chrispy said...

Ambrose has shown enougth to warrant perseverance although runs against New Zealand isn't worth a lot in the grand scheme of things, holding the majority of your catches is though. He must be given the series vs NZ and SAF at home, after the latter we will have a much better idea of his ability.

Mustard meanwhile looked a bit of a leg side bully in the ODI series. He often was out to a brainless shot, his job I agree, but not immediately after the fall of a wicket. It will be interesting to see whether he retains his place or is pushed out by Ambrose who was the winner of the tour. He still has work to do.