Versatile Prior is unsung hero in England’s ascent to pinnacle

A fine wicketkeeper and an adaptable batsman, he is final piece in the jigsaw

HE MAY not get the five-fers, the double centuries or the big headlines but there is one man who has been instrumental yet often unsung in making this England team so complete – not to mention world No1 and destroyers of India – and that man is Matt Prior.

The bowling attack is great and so are the batsmen, we all know that, but having a wicketkeeper-batsman of Prior’s quality has really rounded the team off and helped to cement their place at the very top.

Versatile with the bat, he can adapt perfectly to whatever the situation demands. If quick runs are needed he is able to cut loose and sacrifice his wicket, but when it’s called for he will get his head down and defend.

He is also a superb wicketkeeper and, I’m sure, has a great influence on the decision-making of captain Andrew Strauss.

When he stands there with Strauss at first slip no-one knows what they’re saying. But you can be sure they are chatting about the way the ball is moving on that particular wicket and that Prior is having a big say.

As a captain I always relied heavily on my wicketkeeper for insight on how the ball was moving.

Prior’s success is particularly satisfying because it is an area England have struggled with in recent years. They have experimented with Craig Kieswetter and Steven Davis, and perhaps having rivals around the set-up has brought the best out of Prior.

Amid the glow of a 4-0 whitewash of India and England’s ascent to world No1 Test-playing nation hardly seems the time for nit-picking. But if I do harbour one slight concern about the current set-up it is the lack of spin-bowling cover.

If Graeme Swann was to pick up an injury it would dramatically reduce England’s effectiveness, especially in the fixtures on foreign pitches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan over the next few months.

Coach Andy Flower is well-stocked with batsmen and seamers but there is no-one near Swann’s quality in the same department.

With all due respect to Monty Panesar, he has been around for seven years and I don’t think he is any better than he was then. He does not bat or bowl like Swann, and if Panesar is next in line that is a problem.

There is no obvious contender for reserve spinner at county level, but I am sure it is something the selectors and their advisors will be looking around at.

Strauss may not be England’s best ever captain but there is no denying that he represents a safe pair of hands and his character certainly comes over in his team.

Unfortunately for India, so does that of their skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Dhoni made his mark in one-day cricket and is an individual, a cameo player. That type does not always fit well with the hard graft of Test cricket, which is better suited to someone like Rahul Dravid, who reminded us during the fourth Test at The Oval how great he is at grinding out runs.

Where Dhoni could shine, however, is in the forthcoming one-day series against England. I think he will be far more upbeat and will relish the occasion – rather than sending out the vibes of a beaten man.