Prior's blazing Ashes show earns him a path out of the bush
England have plucked Test wicketkeeper from Victoria T20 side on a hunch he'll shine as World Cup opener
Thursday 20 January 2011
Conversations with England selectors are invariably incomplete without the mention of meticulous thinking. The implication is that they did not get the team where they are today by picking names out of a hat or playing games of pinning the tail on a donkey. If there was a Nobel Prize for the science of cricket team selection, the present England lot would like to think they were in the running.
Still, it may take a little while to appreciate the precise strategy behind resurrecting Matt Prior's one-day career as the side's wicketkeeper-batsman for the World Cup. It is a bold decision and it may prove to be the right one, but in ditching the present incumbent, Steven Davies, and overlooking Prior's immediate successor, Craig Kieswetter, they have gone back to square one on a hunch, backed by a wing and a prayer, rather than any solid evidence.
Prior will take his place as wicketkeeper and opening batsman in the second match of the Commonwealth Bank series against Australia tomorrow after rejoining the squad last night. Although Davies will stay on as reserve wicketkeeper he is unlikely to feature again this winter. Chris Tremlett, who has also been overlooked for the World Cup, will probably have to play because England's fast-bowling resources are currently stretched.
"We've tried three keepers over the last few years and none really has grabbed the opportunity with both hands," said Andy Flower, coach and selector, in explaining the decision about Prior yesterday. "Steven Davies was originally picked for this series on the back of a reasonable series against Pakistan. There's a few things that have developed in the interim: Prior's good form towards the end of the Test series, Prior's performance with the gloves through the Test series. And our judgement on the fact that we see Prior being more useful in the subcontinent than Steven."
It was the only real surprise in the squad of 15 named for a tournament that England have never won. Davies can consider himself unfortunate to have been so near and yet be so far away, but these are the vagaries of sport. Luke Wright, a welcome, effervescent presence in any squad, has been preferred ahead of the Ashes hero Tremlett. England decided on four seam bowlers, instead of five, to include the extra all-rounder.
Wright has been part of the one-day establishment for two years and it would have been more painful for him than for Davies to be omitted now. But he has not been especially convincing lately with either bat or ball and Tremlett's ability to extract bounce from benign surfaces might have been an advantage in India and Bangladesh, where England will play their six World Cup group matches.
Nobody was more surprised than Prior by his call-up from the Victoria Bushrangers, for whom he had been plying his trade, successfully, in Australia's domestic Twenty20 tournament, the KFC Big Bash. He was in the 30-strong long list for the World Cup but Davies' selection in the series against Australia seemed to have sealed his fate.
Prior said: "I'd be delighted to get the chance to show that I can open the batting in one-day cricket. I don't think that I was quite the player I am now when I was doing the job before. I certainly wasn't as versatile.
"I have never been one to make excuses about anything but I was never certain where I was batting. When I opened I went out with that pinch hitter mentality. I didn't fail often, but the trouble was I would get 20, 30 or 40 and because I was a bit naïve I would play one shot too many. I hope I have learnt when to play the big shot or rein it in a little bit.
"At the moment the England keeper opens the batting and that allows you to play the extra all-rounder down the order," he added. "But it's also the best place for me in one-day cricket."
Flower confirmed that Prior would open the batting against Australia in the second match of the series, but also agreed that Ian Bell was an option, as a player who could bat anywhere from one to six. He took exception to the suggestion that Prior's selection made the process look chaotic.
"I disagree with that completely, selection is not an exact science, is it?" Flower said, thus ending the Nobel hopes. "You couldn't determine before the Pakistan series who your wicketkeeper-batsman would be for the World Cup now, that is much too early. Davies at the time was in superb form, he had scored a lot of runs for Surrey in all forms of the game and in limited-overs cricket had scored them really quickly.
"And he was given a chance to establish himself as wicketkeeper-batsman. In our opinion he hasn't done that well enough, and that is why we have chosen Prior.
"It's very cumbersome, the ICC stipulating that you have to make a decision so early, it's not the first time it has been cumbersome, and it would be nice if we didn't have to make it this early, when you're playing a whole series in front of you. One game into a seven-match series and you're having to announce your World Cup Squad is not ideal at all.
"All three of those keepers have been given a lot of chances over the last couple of years and none of them have really established themselves. So we're making a decision based on what we think is best for this World Cup."
Which is what selectors are supposed to do, and in Prior they have understandably placed their faith after his second rousing Ashes campaign. They could, however, have taken their decision on Davies earlier. Neither he nor Kieswetter have been given abundant opportunity.
Davies has played a mere seven matches, including the last six, which is a mere pebble on the mountain of one-day cricket. Kieswetter, who was a member of the triumphant Twenty20 team, has played 12 matches, in the third of which he scored a hundred, a feat that has so far eluded Prior, but his form slipped badly early last summer in England.
Prior has played 55 matches with a top score of 87. His record in the subcontinent, for which he has been specifically designated as the better man, is nothing to write home about. In 19 matches there he has scored 324 runs at 21.60; in the 11 in which he has opened the batting, he has made 242 at 22, never scoring more than 45.
But the world is once more at his feet.
World Cup squad details: England's XV for the Subcontinent
A J Strauss (capt)
Age: 33, Caps: 114, County: Middlesex, Batting average: 35.76
J M Anderson
Age: 28, Caps: 133, County: Lancashire, Bowling average: 30.32
I R Bell
Age: 28, Caps: 84, County: Warwickshire, Batting average: 36.23
T T Bresnan
Age: 25, Caps: 34, County: Yorkshire, Bowling average: 39.10
S J C Broad
Age: 24, Caps: 73, County: Nottinghamshire, Bowling average: 25.70
P D Collingwood
Age: 34, Caps: 189, County: Durham, Bat/Bowl ave: 36.07/38.63
E J G Morgan
Age: 24, Caps: 56, County: Middlesex, Batting average: 40.13
K P Pietersen
Age: 30, Caps: 105, County: Surrey, Batting average: 42.62
M J Prior (wk)
Age: 28, Caps: 55, County: Sussex, Batting average: 25.38
Age: 25, Caps: 5, County: Yorkshire, Bowling average: 22.44
G P Swann
Age: 31, Caps: 44, County: Nottinghamshire, Bowling average: 24.63
J C Tredwell
Age: 28, Caps: 2, County: Kent, Bowling average: –
I J L Trott
Age: 29, Caps: 12, County: Warwickshire, Batting average: 44.45
L J Wright
Age: 25, Caps: 42, County: Sussex, Bat/Bowl ave: 21.42/51.26
M H Yardy
Age: 30, Caps: 20, County: Sussex, Bat/Bowl ave: 16.27/47.71
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