Prior's flying high: Finn takes six wickets but hails the contribution of England's renaissance man
18:48 GMT, 23 March 2013
18:50 GMT, 23 March 2013
Steven Finn celebrated his second six-wicket haul for England by thanking the man who pulled one of them out of the clear blue Auckland sky.
Finn bowled his side back into contention on day two of the third and deciding Test against New Zealand with 6-125 as England responded to conceding 250-1 on the first day after inviting the hosts to bat by bowling them out for 443.
Struggling in the first two Tests to groove a new action necessitated by his habit of kicking the stumps in delivery, Finn produced his fourth five-for in Test cricket and the first since he recorded exactly the same figures against Australia in the opening Test of the 2010-11 Ashes series in Brisbane.
But a measure of the contribution to his success of Matt Prior was that Finn nominated his catch to dismiss Peter Fulton as the highlight of his day, a superb effort down the legside that underlined the England wicketkeeper’s status as the best gloveman in world cricket.
In full flight: Peter Fulton flicks Steven Finn's delivery down the legside, Matt Prior takes off and holds a remarkable catch
Finn had called for England to have a crazy hour in the field after their failure to make inroads on day one. But all they got at first was Fulton grinding on where he left off the previous evening, blocking the living daylights out of it from his overnight 124 with 12 runs in 69 balls spanning a seemingly endless hour and three-quarters.
Yet ‘Two-metre Peter’ probably thought he had collected four more when he glanced an innocuous legside delivery from Finn towards the fine leg boundary, only for its passage to the rope to be breathtakingly interrupted.
Diving full length to his left, Prior threw out a glove and caught the ball one-handed after it had already passed him, then twisted in mid-air to ensure he avoided spilling the ball when he landed.
Even Fulton seemed suitably impressed, pausing momentarily to admire a catch which, for sheer impact, was on a par with Andrew Strauss’s effort to dismiss Adam Gilchrist in the Trent Bridge Test of the 2005 Ashes and Paul Collingwood’s amazing take at slip to get rid of Ricky Ponting on England’s last trip Down Under.
Prior went on to complete his own ‘five-for’ in the innings, three off Finn, one of the two wickets James Anderson took to draw level with Derek Underwood on 297 Test dismissals and a second outstanding catch, standing up to the stumps, to snaffle a thin outside edge to do for the dangerous Brendon McCullum off Jonathan Trott, an example of Alastair Cook’s inspired captaincy or a fluke, depending on your preference.
All smiles: Steven Finn celebrates with teammates Stuart Broad, Jonathan Trott and Prior after dismissing Trent Boult
As Finn said: ‘It’s nice to know he can leap like a salmon down the legside and catch a couple of those. To have him behind the stumps is fantastic.’
It is all a far cry from where Prior found himself the last time England toured here dropped after a controversial start to his Test career in 2007 as the successor to Geraint Jones.
Despite becoming the first England keeper to score a century on Test debut, against West Indies at Lord’s, the Sussex man won more critics than admirers for clumsy glovework and a perception grew he put his mouth where his mitts should be too often. It was no surprise when he lost his place to Tim Ambrose after a terrible tour to Sri Lanka, in which at times he looked no better than a part-timer behind the stumps.
Anderson is no doubt, however, of how good the keeper who reinvented himself has become.
‘The legside take off Finny was one of the best wicketkeeping catches you will see,’ he said. ‘It had been a long couple of days and the legs start to get tired, so to see someone do that gives everyone a rush.
‘Matt is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world. I can’t honestly think of anyone who comes close but the fact is he wasn’t in the side when we were here last and that made him change his whole approach to the job.
Prize wicket: Prior holds on to dismiss Brendon McCullum
‘At first he thought of himself as a batsman who could get by with the gloves on athleticism and eye, but he realised there was more to it. He worked tirelessly with Bruce French [the former England keeper and now their wicketkeeping coach] and is reaping the rewards.
‘He is the first out on the field doing his drills every day, will practise taking all sorts of catches one-handed, like this one he took, for hours and hours, and the way he manages to maintain his concentration hour after hour when one slip can make all the difference is impressive.
‘And he fulfils all the criteria for a genuine all-rounder because, not only is he clearly worth his place as a keeper, he could easily bat at No 6 on merit as well.’
The best wicketkeepers, they say, are the ones whose work you hardly notice. In Auckland Prior disproved the rule.