Prior: The world's best?

Posted in England

It was almost two years ago when I first realised Matt Prior may well be England's - or even the world's - best Test cricketer.

I was covering the much-anticipated first Test of four against India at Lord's, but ended up being forced to head back to the comfort of my hotel bed due to a pretty miserable bug.

When I left, England had lost quick wickets to reach 107 for six - a lead of 295 - in their second innings. When I woke up they were 269 for six.

Prior had done, well, what he does. At a time when England surrendered a dominant position for a nervous one, he struck a 120-delivery 103 - an effort the bowlers would follow up by sealing 196-run victory.

His contribution may often be forgotten when people remember a 4-0 whitewash that featured an almost unprecedented amount of 'daddy' hundreds, as was the in-vogue description at the time.

Yet I reflected upon it as the rubber's most significant contribution - even if I was snoring down a London hotel as it happened!

It was an innings that sums up the career of someone whose unselfishness knows no bounds - how often is the opposite true in sport? - for Prior pretty much always delivers when needed.

It is easy to write the latter statement today; unlike the aforementioned century at Lord's, Prior's remarkable rearguard at Auckland's Eden Park will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Indeed, it will be likely be mentioned in the distinguished company of Michael Atherton's memorable 185 in Johannesburg in 1995, or Denis Amiss' 262 in Kingston 21 years earlier.

Matt Prior

Current stumper Matt Prior, pictured, ranks alongside Alan Knott, Alec Stewart and Les Ames as England's greatest wicketkeeper

He enjoyed some fortune - I would imagine a bottle or two of wine is en route to whoever made the stumps as we speak - but it is very rare great innings do not feature such moments.

More than a great innings; this was a great performance. Let us not forget his crucial 73 first time round, nor the five catches in New Zealand's opening innings, one of which was as replay-worthy as even his finest cover drive.

Let us hope, too, that this effort finally dispels the myth that he can only play one way.

It is one of cricket's great misconceptions that Prior knows only of attack; a 182-ball 110 at Auckland does not match many of his efforts on the sub-continent in the doggedness stakes, but can still be considered relatively pedestrian by his near-run-a-ball standards.

Similarly, it is often suggested England's other hero in the match, Ian Bell, only scores runs when the pressure is off. If you believe that, look back at every Test he has played since the 2009 Ashes. Come back to me if you feel compelled.

It is fitting that arguably Prior's best Test performance should come in an encounter when his glovework shone through because the improvements he has made in that discipline are perhaps most remarkable.

This is the same player, by the way, who had a brief spell out of the side after a disappointing tour of Sri Lanka behind the stumps in 2007. Now he possesses as safe a pair of hands as I can remember.

As England supporters we look to Australia great Adam Gilchrist as the definition of a brilliant wicketkeeper-batsman, maybe not believing one of our own is quite as good.

We should start looking a little closer to home. In Prior, we have someone who can stand alongside Les Ames, Alan Knott and Alec Stewart as England's greatest-ever stumper, a man whose keeping and batting have long since been in equilibrium.

What is more, his all-round talents surely place him among the best players in the world today. I've considered him worthy of such company since waking up and checking the cricket score on July 24 2011; now I feel more certain than ever.

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