EXCLUSIVE: Prior warning! India beware… England's keeper has gone from mouthy upstart to world beating all-rounder
23:00 GMT, 28 October 2012
Matt Prior has come a long way since he was unfairly singled out for being a bit too gobby during his debut Test summer of 2007.
These days, his glovework is barely noticed. His batting average of 42 is the stuff of a genuine all-rounder. And, most pertinently of all as far as England’s tour of India is concerned, it was Prior who phoned Kevin Pietersen during the summer at the height of the texting controversy to find out what on earth was going on.
It’s true that Pietersen was dropped from the Test side the following day. But not before he and Prior had endured a heart-to-heart that history may yet record as the starting point of Pietersen’s ‘reintegration’.
Glove story: Matt Prior has proved himself as top class with gauntlets and bat
Prior’s response to this suggestion is that of the archetypal team player. ‘I don’t think I can take any credit because next day all hell broke loose,’ he told Sportsmail. ‘There’s been a bit said about the phone call. I just did what I’d do if it had been anyone: KP or Broad or Swann, or any one of my team-mates.
‘If they’ve got an issue in the dressing room, the right thing to do is to speak to them and say, “what’s up” And I’d do exactly the same if the same thing happened again. But hopefully it won’t.
‘I can see that Kevin wants to be a part of this team — and for us that’s great news.’
The charges against Prior during the 2007 home series against India ranged from the puerile to the pernicious. Not only was he accused of having scattered the jelly beans at Trent Bridge that so enraged India’s attack leader Zaheer Khan. He was said to have bragged to Sachin Tendulkar about driving a Porsche.
Both claims were untrue, yet Prior took them on the chin, knuckled down after subsequently losing his Test place, and is now — like all good keepers — the beating heart of the fielding effort.
If he is still keeping spirits up come the fourth Test at Nagpur in December, we’ll know Alastair Cook’s tourists have punched above their weight.
Prior, who along with his team-mates was due to arrive in Mumbai on Monday following a training camp in Dubai, is pragmatic about the challenge ahead.
Since David Gower captained England to victory in 1984-85, India have lost only four Test series at home out of 40.
Point to prove: Prior says England are still hurt about defeat to South Africa
Only Pakistan, South Africa and Australia have triumphed there in that time. ‘India is as tough as it gets for an England cricketer,’ said Prior at Chance to Shine’s Brit Insurance Annual Achievement awards. ‘For this team, it’s the final frontier. We haven’t won there for 28 years, which is longer than it took us to beat the Aussies in Australia.
‘Someone mentioned to me recently that it doesn’t seem as big as the Ashes because it’s not the old enemy and it doesn’t probably capture the nation’s imagination as much as Australia.
‘But for us it’s a massive series, and it will be a huge challenge.’ Prior has spent his time since the end of the English season ‘getting really quite fit and stripping off a few pounds’.
Wicketkeeping under the Indian sun can be a gruelling business. But he is also determined to help erase the memories of a traumatic summer in which England imploded, on and off the field. ‘To win in India would be very special. What would make it more special is that we would have come back from a tough summer.
‘I’m a big believer that team hardships can, if dealt with in the right way, lead to the team being stronger. And that ultimately is the most important thing.’
Is the team still hurting after losing the Test series — and the No 1 ranking — to South Africa
‘There’s hurt whenever you lose a Test series,’ said Prior. ‘The No 1 spot is certainly something we want to get back. But it’s not going to be an overnight thing. With Cooky now coming in as captain, it’s an exciting time for the team to start again, and say, right, that was a good two-year period, and we’re about to start on another period.
Mates: Prior gets on well with Kevin Pietersen and helped his reintegration
‘This is a window of opportunity to see how far we can get over the next year to 18 months.’
Central to England’s hopes of triumphing in a country that has brought them a single Test victory — Andrew Flintoff’s ‘Ring of Fire’ win at Mumbai in March 2006 — from their last four visits will be their batting against India’s spinners. In that regard, England’s three trips to Asia in 2012 have not been auspicious.
‘You can’t keep performing like that against spin on subcontinental wickets,’ said Prior. ‘I think we learned a lot of lessons.’
Chief among them, believes Prior, is that there is no one-size-fits-all method of tackling spin.
‘Maybe where we have gone wrong is that we tried to follow one template,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you can do that.’
Pietersen once claimed Prior was England’s best player of spin. Had he not middled a sweep straight into the midriff of Lahiru Thirimanne at short leg at a crucial stage of a fourth-innings run chase at Galle in March, they might even have won the Test series in Sri Lanka. So what’s his secret
‘I see it as a game of cat and mouse. Rotating the strike is the biggest thing. It’s all well and good hitting boundaries and big shots to release pressure, but if you can rotate the strike, you can release the pressure that way.
‘You’ve got to try to move fielders. That allows you then to hit ones and twos into an area that’s as safe as possible. That’s my way of doing it — but everyone has their own way.’
The modesty is unnecessary, for Prior’s way sounds as thoughtful as any. Besides — as Pietersen will confirm — he has earned the right to be listened to.
Matt Prior was supporting Chance to Shine, the campaign to bring cricket back to schools. To make a donation visit www.chancetoshine.org