Another priceless cameo proves Prior is the ultimate team player
He will always be remembered for the window that was smashed at Lord's
Saturday 21 July 2012
The ethos of the England team built by Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower requires every player to place the needs of the collective ahead of his own, and few cricketers embody this quality better than Matt Prior.
Prior needed injections to assauge Achilles tendon pain before this match and in his last Test, the draw with the West Indies at Edgbaston, the wicketkeeper managed to play despite an eye infection. The cult of the personality is more prevalent than ever in modern sport yet for Prior, all that counts is helping his country to win matches.
There are cricketers, such as Kevin Pietersen, to whom the game comes naturally, and they are thrilling to watch. It can be just a rewarding an experience, however, to follow the less talented sportsman who improves quickly, to the degree that he can be considered one of the world's best in his position.
Such is the case with Prior, who had a difficult start to his international career and was dropped after a tour of Sri Lanka in 2007. Imagine leaving him out now. One-day keeper Craig Kieswetter hopes to force his way into the Test side but the Somerset player is realistic enough to know he is a long way from achieving that aim.
Prior's progress with the gloves has been so rapid that he would be a strong candidate for a place in a world XI and his batting simply strengthens the case for his inclusion. A golf nut, Prior will be following The Open Championship closely and he will know well the kind of shots needed to escape a difficult spot. With England sliding from 267 for 3 to 284 for 6 during the morning session, it was left to Prior to put them back on the fairway.
After 40 minutes of hostile, accurate South African bowling, Prior struck the first boundary of the morning, a four off Dale Steyn. He then had good luck, edging Vernon Philander between second slip and gully and failing to deal efficiently with a bouncer from Morne Morkel. The ball dropped safely, and after reaching 17, Prior was relieved to see Jacques Rudolph spill a chance in the gully.
By lunch, Prior had crept to 32 after a morning dominated by the South African attack. Afterwards, Prior did what he does best and counter-punched, striking a four in each of the first three overs to force the tourists' captain Graeme Smith, playing in his 100th Test match, to re-examine his options.
With Stuart Broad, a similarly assertive batsman, at the other end, Prior was in a situation he enjoys more than any other. A piercing on-drive to an overpitched delivery from Philander brought the Sussex man his half-century, his 20th in Tests, from just 75 balls.
Broad was bowled later in that over but the eighth-wicket pair had added 32 in 4.5 overs after lunch. Compare that with the problems England had experienced during the first session, when they managed just 59 runs.
By the time Prior was the ninth man out, feathering a catch to the keeper off Morkel, England had staved off the possibility of a collapse and were close to reaching a first- innings total of 400.
Prior's runs – he averaged 42 from his 55 Tests before this one – are valuable but so is his contribution in the field. Whether England are bowling well or poorly, Prior is consistently purposeful and enthusiastic.
However the rest of his career unfolds, Prior will always be remembered for the dressing-room window that was smashed at Lord's shortly after he had been run out against Sri Lanka in June last year.
His batting partner that day was a certain Ian Bell and, yesterday, a poor call from Prior left Bell stranded and the batsman survived only because of Alviro Petersen's inaccurate throw.
It was, however, a rare blemish on the work of a man for whom team success will always mean more than personal achievement.
Stats magic: Day two in numbers
18 50 partnerships from Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith.
65.36 Matt Prior's Test strike-rate after another brisk innings.
5 Ducks in Ravi Bopara's 18 Test innings (27.7 per cent.)
5 AB De Villiers took a bunch of catches in the first dig
4-72 Morne Morkel's figures.
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