Prior loses out as sledging fails to deliver goods

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Peter Moores yesterday signified an intent to display no favouritism during his time as England coach when he and his fellow selectors, David Graveney and Geoff Miller, denied Matthew Prior a lucrative and much sought after central contract.

Moores has turned to Sussex, his former county, on several occasions during his first season in charge and it was widely felt Prior, who played in all England's summer matches against the West Indies and India, had performed well enough to earn a 12-month deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Prior, who is in South Africa with England's World Twenty20 squad preparing for their first game against Zimbabwe on Thursday, will view the decision as a snub. The 25-year-old will be consoled by his Sussex team-mates Luke Wright and James Kirtley, who have also been selected for the two-week tournament, which begins today when South Africa take on the West Indies in Johannesburg.

It is the second year in a row the selectors have failed to name a wicketkeeper in the 12-man list. At the end of last summer they did not feel that the form of Chris Read or Geraint Jones merited a deal and it appears that Prior is yet to convince them that he has a long-term future with the side.

Prior may have retained his place throughout the summer, but there is fierce competition for his spot behind the stumps. Chris Read, with 984, has scored more first-class runs than any other keeper, but he has been unable to transfer his domestic form to Test cricket.

The real challengers for Prior's spot are Tim Ambrose and Phil Mustard, who have each scored more than 1,700 runs in all cricket.

The selectors are not the only ones to now have doubts about Prior's all-round ability but the sentiments are somewhat different to those expressed at the start of the summer when, in his first Test innings, he smashed a commanding and unbeaten 126 against the West Indies at Lord's. Then, many were predicting that England had at last found a successor to Alec Stewart.

Prior's form with the bat has tapered off. The aggressive right-hander averaged almost 65 against the West Indies but only 14.6 in the three-Test series against India. He dropped a couple of high-profile catches – Sachin Tendulkar and V V S Laxman – in the final Test of the summer too. Overall he scored 397 runs at an average of 39.7, a reasonable enough return in a first summer of Test cricket. But it was the non-stop noise and persistent sledging that eventually wore thin with many England fans, and possibly even the selectors. By the end of the Test series against India everybody had heard and seen enough. It is runs and catches that win Test matches, not wisecrack remarks from behind the stumps.

Prior has shown promise in one-day cricket too, but it is appearing in Test matches that is a prerequisite for those who are offered central contracts. James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom have impressed this summer and fully deserve their deals, but there are several players who could easily have been overlooked. Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison have missed much of summer with injuries and Andrew Strauss has had a lean 12 months with the bat. Andrew Flintoff, whose left ankle continues to be a major worry, is not untouchable either. All four are in need of a good year if their contracts are to be extended further than next September.

It was not all doom for Prior, whose mood will have improved on hearing that he had been selected in England's one-day squad for Sri Lanka. Graeme Swann, Nottinghamshire's spinning all-rounder, was the only surprise inclusion in a 15-man party who will play five one-dayers in Sri Lanka immediately after the World Twenty20 Championship has finished.

Duncan Fletcher, England's former coach, did not warm to Swann, who played a solitary one-day international seven years ago. England will want the option of a second spinner in Sri Lanka and Swann has been in excellent form this summer. In limited-over cricket the off-spinner has taken 30 wickets for Nottinghamshire at an average of 18.2, conceding just over four runs an over.

Swann's bowling in first-class cricket, where he has taken 45 wickets, has been good too, and if the 28-year-old can impress he has an excellent chance of returning to Sri Lanka with the Test side in mid-November.

England Squads

* One-day squad:

P D Collingwood (capt) Durham age 31, ODI caps 131

J M Anderson Lancs 25, 76

I R Bell Warks 25, 54

R S Bopara Essex 22, 14

S C J Broad Leics 21, 16

A N Cook Essex 22, 11

A Flintoff Lancashire 29, 127

A D Mascarenhas Hants 29, 7

M S Panesar Northants 25, 25

K P Pietersen Hants 27, 61

M J Prior Sussex 25, 22

O A Shah Middlesex 28, 26

R J Sidebottom Notts 29, 3

G P Swann Notts 28, 1

L J Wright Sussex 22, 2

* Central contracts: Anderson, Bell, Collingwood, Cook, Flintoff, S J Harmison (Durham, age 28), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire, 30), Pietersen, Panesar, Sidebottom, A J Strauss (Middlesex, 30), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, 32).

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