Like his teammate Jonathan Trott, England’s Matt Prior is not a sexy cricketer—not least because their stocky, balding frames makes them character-actors rather than leading-man material on the cricketing stage. True, Prior’s not as dour and workmanlike as Trott; but he lacks Kevin Pieterson’s panache, Ian Bell’s silken touch, or even Alastair Cook’s dominating solidity. But, to this correspondent (Martin) at least, Prior might just be the most valuable player in the England set-up. Prior is a naturally attacking batsman, willing and able to take the game by the scruff of the neck, pin it to the wall, and tell it to shape up or experience a beating the like of which it had never undergone, before commanding it to scarper PDQ. He’s not only one of the best wicketkeepers in the game at the moment, but, coming in at number seven, he’s able to work with the lower-order batsmen to get England out of a hole or turn a mildly advantageous position into a dominating one in a matter of an hour or so.
Simply put—and leaving aside the titanic presence of Kumar Sangakkara, who no longer keeps on a regular basis for Sri Lanka—Matt Prior is with M. S. Dhoni, the finest wicketkeeper-batsman in English cricket. Like Dhoni, Prior often has to sacrifice his own record to get his team out of trouble or cement an advantage. Like Dhoni, Prior is fearless but not particularly graceful, and neither has a lot of flash. Unlike Dhoni, Prior is chatty and aggressive; but they’re both equally effective at intimidating the opposition through their strokeplay, which has such power that fielders are often left standing like statues as the ball whistles past them. All teams need people like Prior—bullish, busy, happy-to-be-second-fiddle professionals who quietly and with no-nonsense briskness go about compiling records that, only on reflection, reveal themselves to have “excellence” written all over them.