Kiwi input bears fruit for Prior
If Matt Prior marks his return to the England team in style tomorrow, he knows he can thank one of his rivals.
The opening npower Test against Pakistan at Trent Bridge represents Prior’s first outing for his country since the 2-0 Test triumph over Bangladesh early last month.
He has since had to watch from afar as England beat Australia and Bangladesh in one-day cricket, having been overlooked for limited-overs duty in favour of Craig Kieswetter.
A rare extended spell back with his county, Sussex, helped bridge the gap between Test commitments, and no-one could accuse Prior of not putting it to good use.
He hit 47 and 90 not out, off just 49 balls, in his first two games back, in the Friends Provident t20, followed by a memorable 117 off 55 deliveries against Glamorgan.
Prior puts his sensational form down to a new carefree approach, for which he credits Brendon McCullum.
Though you would normally expect them to be on opposing sides in the international arena, Prior and McCullum became county team-mates during the New Zealander’s two-week stint as overseas player at Hove.
It was more then enough time for McCullum, like Prior a wicketkeeper-batsman, to persuade his some-time rival that he needed “to go out and have a bit of fun”.
“Brendon McCullum was absolutely fantastic, and probably a catalyst for me having a decent Twenty20,” said Prior.
“The main thing was to free my mind up. He was very much of the attitude that you should enjoy your cricket: if you see the ball, back yourself to hit it.
“Sometimes you can get a bit intense and weighed down, so caught up in trying to do it right that you end up stopping yourself from playing freely and with your instincts. That’s something that I’ve tried to do.”
Prior’s dazzling performances for Sussex may have been limited largely to 20-over cricket – he struggled to make an impact in two recent LV= County Championship games – but he begins the Test campaign against Pakistan brimming with confidence.
Indeed, he sees no reason why he cannot transfer the mindset which has proved so successful in the shortest format to the five-day arena.
“Batting is about basics, whether you’re playing Twenty20 or Test cricket,” he added. “You can certainly take that mentality into Test cricket.
“Okay, you’re not looking for as high risk shots, and you’re looking to bat longer and be more patient, but there’s no point missing out on opportunities to score.
“By no means do I want to go out in Test cricket and play like a Twenty20 player.
“But the run-rates in Test cricket are certainly higher now, and batters are looking to be more positive.
“Batting with a weight on your shoulders, thinking you don’t want to do the wrong things, doesn’t help you at all. Getting rid of that is what you want to do.”
Prior accepts that it took the input of an ‘outsider’ to alert him to the possibility that he had become overly introspective about his game.
“As an opponent he’s always seen me as a boundary hitter, an attacking player," Prior said, relaying McCullum’s thoughts.
“To hear that from one of your peers instantly gave me a bit of confidence - to go and play those shots, to go and hit boundaries, to look to attack bowlers again.
“He was quite shocked when I was left out of the England team, how I’m now viewed as a batter who hangs in there and nicks and nudges.
“With someone you listen to every day like your coach, you hear what they’re saying but might not always take it on.
“Sometimes it takes someone from further afield because when they say something it means more. Suddenly you see things from a different perspective, which helped hugely.”