Prior plays down lofty accolades
Such is the consistency of Matt Prior’s strong run-scoring and the standard of his glovework, he is increasingly being likened to England’s greatest wicketkeeper-batsmen even if he prefers to ignore such comparisons.
Prior yet again proved invaluable to his country today with another perfectly-judged half-century as the tourists jockeyed for an advantage at Wellington’s Basin Reserve.
Prior’s 82 from 99 balls was merely the latest example of his importance in the pivotal number seven position, a vital contribution to ensure England did not squander hard-won gains on day two of the second Test against New Zealand.
The upshot, after Kevin Pietersen had also dug in for 73 to augment yesterday’s hundreds from Jonathan Trott and Nick Compton, was a total of 465 all out.
Prior’s fluency, particularly in an eighth-wicket stand of 83 with Steven Finn, also bought England’s bowlers enough time to reduce the Black Caps to 66 for three by stumps - thanks to two wickets in two balls from Stuart Broad.
Prior fell short of a deserved seventh Test century, but now has 25 fifties for his country - part of a body of work which puts him high on the list of England’s all-time best wicketkeeper-batsmen.
The 31-year-old is especially adept at batting with the tail, and his natural attacking instincts lend themselves to a selfless approach which serves his team so well.
Many are beginning to bracket him not only with the best in his trade among contemporaries the world over, but also alongside illustrious England predecessors such as Alec Stewart and Alan Knott.
“Things like that are for other people to say, not for me to worry about,” Prior observed. “As far as I’m concerned, those guys are legends of the game - and I’ve got a long way to go before I class myself alongside them.”
For Prior, the key is to help England win games of cricket - as he can realistically hope to here, weather permitting - and let the statistics and record books look after themselves.
He is aware of the inevitable comparisons with Stewart and Knott, but will not waste time or tempt fate by poring over the figures himself.
“Fingers crossed, one day I might be able to say ’Yes, I had a good influence on the team’,” he added. “You look at these guys - Stewie has been a mentor of mine for many years - and their stats and the games they’ve played, of course. But they’re distant goals. I made the mistake of looking too far ahead once before, and I’m not going to do that again.”
Prior will not fret either at missing out narrowly on three figures, after just failing to beat short third man with a reverse-sweep, secure instead that he was trying to do the right thing for his team.
At the suggestion he might have been tempted to hang on for a hundred, he responded: “It’s not the way I play. I try to read the situation as best I can, and adapt my game. That’s all that’s important to me - making sure the team’s in the right position at the end of the day.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say you do walk off and (think) ‘Oh, 18 runs away - it would have been lovely to get a Test century’ ... they don’t come around that often. But if I get it over his head, it’s another boundary, then get to tea and have another little dart. That’s more important.
“Getting those runs quickly at the end of the innings was what I was trying to do. It didn’t come off, but we’ve got ourselves in a pretty good position ... and had a nice, lengthy session (with the ball) to come in hard at them.”
Prior has spent the majority of his career, in first-class cricket with Sussex as well as for England, at number seven - and has become expert at eking out precious partnerships with those below him. He would jump at the chance to go up the order, but is content where he is.
“I consider myself a batter, and batsmen should be able to bat anywhere,” he said. “If I was needed to bat higher up, I would love that opportunity. But I don’t think moving one or two places makes a huge difference. If that opportunity arose, I’d love it. But I can’t see how it would do with the balance of our team.”
England have made that selection formula work for them over a protracted period, and first change Broad’s intervention with the ball today suggested it just might again as they seek to go 1-0 up with one to play.
Broad followed the wicket of Hamish Rutherford with that of Ross Taylor first ball - a classic case, according to Prior, of creating an opportunity and then making the most of it.
“Those chances don’t always come, but when they do you’ve got to make sure you grab them,” he added. “For Broady to get two balls like that back to back is credit to him. We’ve got to make sure now we come in tomorrow and really push this advantage home.”