Matt Prior’s Latest Hundred against Pakistan Proves His Worth to England Once Again

A Third Test Century for England's wicketkeeper

Once again a middle order batsman has stepped up to help steer England away from potential danger towards almost certain victory with a century. Where Eoin Morgan had his moment in the first innings, here it was Matt Prior’s turn to raise the bat.

Though he ended the day a hero, he was villain earlier in the day as hesitant calling from Prior saw Morgan run out with the score at 98-6 and whatever momentum England had built up was beginning to be halted by the clatter of wickets.

After Umar Gul swung hard earlier the day to avoid the follow on, including some mighty blows off Anderson and Finn, it was England’s turn to face the swinging ball with the Pakistan bowlers running riot.

The mood was set, as ever, by Mohammed Aamer who nipped out Andrew Strauss with a beauty, then Cook swiftly followed-strangled down the leg side.

After a bright respite from the steady Jonathan Trott and a recovering Kevin Pietersen, who showed signs of returning to form with some fine shots-including one lovely straight drive off Umar Gul.

Yet both men swiftly fell to the Pakistan fast bowler, Pietersen caught wonderfully by a diving Kamran Akmal off an inside edge and then Trott with a delivery which kept low.

Once Collingwood, fortunate to survive a first ball duck when Akmal dived too far and spilled an outside edge, fell LBW to Gul and after Prior and Morgan’s mix up, England were on course for a tough target but rocking along the way.

Yet up stepped Prior, all busy energy and capable stroke play, to steady the ship. Here was an innings which ought to have silenced any doubts, if any, about his worth to this team.

His batting was dogged, determined, yet not without flair-as shown by two big sixes off Kaneria to take him into the nineties. But more importantly was the way he manoeuvred England’s lower order towards a near impossible total for Pakistan to chase.

Hitting out for the hundred

Partnerships of 49 with Graeme Swann, 56 with Stuart Broad and 51 with last man Steven Finn were vital, and showed his ability not only to take a firm grip on proceedings, but keep the score rattling along at a rapid rate.

Only as he edged towards his hundred did he slow, as he crept cautiously towards the century-perhaps conscious that he had not scored one since March 2009.

Yet once the width was offered, a cut through gully brought him the three runs for his third Test hundred. As Strauss duly declared, with the lead now standing at a world record 435 runs, and given the calibre of the Pakistan batsmen and conditions of the Trent Bridge surface a certain victory.

England’s good form continued as Stuart Broad came to the party with two vital wickets and Anderson nipping out another one to leave Pakistan tottering at 15-3 at the close. Such a final flourish merely embellished Prior’s innings further.

Since Alec Stewart’s retirement England have searched desperately for a wicketkeeper batsman who can both keep soundly and score more than his fair share of runs, in Prior they have a man who ticks both boxes.

His keeping is now lithe and athletic to both seam and spin bowlers courtesy of hard yards put in with coach Bruce French, and he no longer betrays any of the technical deficiencies which marred his first foray into Test match cricket.

Meanwhile his batting, always his strongest suit, has never been doubted, despite a slight wobble in South Africa. A test match average over 40-still a lofty landmark in Test cricket-is hugely creditable and puts him up there with the best batsmen among England’s pantheon of wicketkeepers.

It seems almost strange to think that just weeks ago Craig Kieswetter was being tipped to force Prior out of the Test position given their recent turn of fortunes.

While Kieswetter searches vainly for a recovery of the form that made him such a force to be reckoned with in the T20 Championships, Prior continues to get stronger and stronger after scoring plenty in all forms for Sussex.

But as his latest hundred goes to show, when the pressure is on, Prior is more than capable of responding well.

As England continue on through this series, and then eventually towards the Ashes this winter, one suspects they will continue to appreciate the worth of their wicketkeeper batsman. On this evidence he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

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England v Bangladesh – Series Ratings

England

Andrew Strauss – 7

An authoritative return from the England captain after his self-imposed rest over the latter part of the winter. Shrugged off doubts about his early season form with a couple of decent scores at Lords though he will be disappointed to have missed out on a hundred. Captaincy-wise, he was in control without ever doing anything spectacular, and at times appeared unable to stem the flow of runs coming from Tamim Iqbal.

Alastair Cook – 5

After a superhuman tour in Bangladesh, this was back to earth with a bump for the vice captain whose technical improvements over the winter appear to have disappeared upon his return to England. Needs a big Pakistan series ahead of the Ashes campaign.

Jonathan Trott – 8

Would have been harsh to mark him down for his single figure score at Old Trafford after becoming the first English batsmen since Kevin Pietersen to rack up a double century. Reminiscent of the cool, calm presence we first saw in the Ashes rather than the vulnerable one over the winter. Needs to quicken his pre-delivery routine though, but a first test match wicket was a welcome bonus.

Kevin Pietersen – 7

Arrived into the series after being named player of the tournament at the World T20 and while he never lived up to that billing, he showed signs of hitting his straps in Test Matches. Though a year and a half without a Test Match hundred is a statistic he may want to end sooner rather than later.

Ian Bell – 8

A tale of two tests for the Warwickshire man, diffident, almost uneasy at Lords where he resembled the Bell of two years ago. But the Old Trafford Bell was the one of recent times, gritty, responsible and effective. His 128 dug his team out of a hole, and he played the spinners with consummate ease. He appears set for potentially a big year.

Eoin Morgan – 6

Two starts, but little to show for it. While this is just the start for the young Irishman, he will hope to improve on a so-so series. Technically looks the part, and the runs should start flowing should he have further opportunities.

Matt Prior – 7

Hard to criticise his wicket-keeping, as he kept reasonably well with an injured finger. Couple of decent scores, notably his 93 at Old Trafford though he will feel he missed out on a certain hundred with an ugly reverse sweep. Should have done enough to be England’s keeper through until the Ashes, despite the claims of Kieswetter, Davies and Foster, bar a nightmare Pakistan series.

Tim Bresnan – 5

Clearly short of first class form, but his bowling was painfully dismissed by Tamim Iqbal. Will be short of opportunities to impress with the test team before Australia, though his batting could be invaluable in a five-man attack. But sadly for the Yorkshireman this was a series to forget, ended prematurely by a stress fracture.

Graeme Swann – 7

No wickets at Lords, six at Old Trafford. At Lords found conditions which were ill-suited to his style of bowling and clearly struggled. More at home at Old Trafford, where he ran through the Bangladesh line-up. An integral part of this team.

Ajmal Shahzad – 7

Picked for the second test and didn’t disappoint. Pace-regularly clocking up 90 miles per hour, reverse swing and a touch of controlled aggression. Ability to swing the old ball, which was reminiscent of Simon Jones in his pomp, could be vital. A find, and certainly one to watch in the future.

James Anderson – 7

Nothing demonstrated how much Anderson was improving through the series’ than his first and last bowling efforts-the first a rather disastrous struggle, the last a wonderful piece of swing bowling which even Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons admitted would have got better batsmen out. When conditions suit, remains unplayable, and very much the leader of this attack. His Slip fielding-as shown by his catches off Graeme Swann at Old Trafford-is very much improving.

Steven Finn – 9

Perhaps, quite literally, the biggest find in England’s bowling attack since Stuart Broad emerged onto the scene. Offers terrific height at decent pace, which was too much for the Bangladeshi batsman and on Australian pitches, he could prove more than useful. Two five wicket hauls tell a story, but all of a sudden he has leapt up the pecking order as an Ashes candidate.

Bangladesh

Tamim Iqbal – 9

Two centuries, each scored in spectacular fashion, confirmed his place as one of the world’s most exciting young batsmen. Far more prestigious names will have struggled to score a better century at Lords than the 21-year old, who could well be a star for Bangladesh over the next decade.

Imrul Kayes – 6

Weakness to the short ball was ruthlessly exposed by Strauss and Finn. That apart, he looked at home and it is a credit to him that, working in tandem with Tamim, he put the English bowlers under pressure in all but the last innings.

Junaid Siddique – 6

Scores of 58 and 74 at Lords-both patient, well-measured innings, showed a sound temperament and technique which will serve the 23-year old well throughout his test career. Had one to forget at Old Trafford, but was by no means a tour to forget for the number three.

Jahurul Islam – 5

Started well at Lords, before falling to the part-time dibby dobblers of Jonathan Trott in the second innings. Yet after that it was the stuff of nightmares for the batsmen, as he was out twice to horrible shots, one to a turning Swann delivery the other to a rising Finn ball which he hit straight to the wicketkeeper with Bangladesh in trouble.

Mohammed Ashraful – 3

The batsman will have fond memories of his previous trip to England when he led Bangladesh to victory over Australia, but this was a nadir even by his recent standards. A player of obvious talent, and still the countries’ leading century-maker, but his game appears in crisis as his average continues to plummit.

Shakib Al Hasan – 6

Tough to mark, because his bowling-tight and perhaps the most threatening of all his bowlers-deserves far higher. But his batting was poor as he struggled to cope with England’s bowling, and his captaincy was at times far too defensive-indicative of his side’s expectations. Needs help from others if he is to lead this team out of their present position.

Mushfiqur Rahim – 3

Much improved keeper, but his batting floundered as he was probably put two rungs too low in the order and often left trying to save positions with only the tail for help. That said, he badly underperformed-with only 40 runs in 4 innings-but despite such travails appears technically sound enough to bat at number 5.

Mahmudullah – 7

Deserves better from his team, as a player who clearly can bat-as his maiden test hundred against New Zealand shows-he too deserves a place two places up the order rather than his current spot at number 8. Showed plenty of spark with a late hitting 38 at Old Trafford, but was too often marooned with the lower order. His bowling was useful, and his off-spinners perhaps should have been used more often by his captain.

Shaful Islam – 6

Not picked for Lords, but bolstered his side’s pace bowling ranks at Old Trafford. Two wickets, Strauss and Trott were real reward for a lively bowler who could well be a big part of Bangladesh’s plans in the coming years.

Shahadat Hossain – 6

A five-for at Lords were real reward for a capable spell of swing bowling, but after that the pace man became more synonymous for the grunts after his release of the ball. Was hit to all parts in the second innings at Lords, and presented little more than a passing threat at Old Trafford.

Abdul Razzak – 5

Ostensibly the slow left armer is Bangladesh’s number one spinner, but he was outshone by Shakib and Mahmudullah at Old Trafford after not being picked at Lords, despite picking up Alastair Cook with his first ball of the series.

Rohibul Islam – 3

Picked by Jamie Siddons for Lords, but the youngster struggled to cope with conditions and failed to make much impression on the game.

Rubel Hossain – 3

Picked up one wicket, that of Ian Bell, but offered little real threat and was perhaps a wicket which as much surprised the bowler as much as the batsman.