Alex Massie

The Prior Problem

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Apart from being England wicket-keepers what do Matt Prior and Godfrey Evans have in common? Congratulations if you answered that they're the only keepers in the history of test cricket to have twice conceded 25 or more byes in an innings. Of course, Evans's "achievement" came in 91 tests; Prior has done it in just 15. In fact, at the time of writing Prior has the misfortune to rank 3rd and 4th in the list of "most byes conceded in an innings". The 34 he's conceded (so far!) in the current test goes along with the 33 he let through against India at the Oval in 2007.

In one sense Evans's presence on the list demonstrates the weakness of bald numbers. When Evans conceded 30 byes against New Zealand at Wellington in 1951 the Kiwis were batting on a rain-affected wicket and Evans was standing up to Alec Bedser while also keeping to the brilliant-but-erratic leg-spinner Doug Wright. Heaven knows how many byes Prior would have let through in similar circumstances...

Worse for Prior - and for England - than the byes (not all of which are entirely Prior's fault) was when he dropped Chanderpaul when the little fellow was on just 56. By test standards it was not a difficult chance and though it won't have much impact on this match, it was a reminder that for all that his glovework may be getting better there remains plenty of room for improvement. Furthermore, it's my view that dropped wicket-keeping catches are even more dispiriting than other spilt chances and, consequently, often the most damaging drops of all.

How do you weigh Prior's expected weight of runs against the greater likelihood he'll drop catches or miss stumpings? Tough one. By the end of his career Alec Stewart had made himself into a good keeper, but when he first kept Jack Russell out the side, were the extra runs worth it? Tough to say too. In other words, My guess would be that if Prior's batting average falls below 35 over any decent stretch of time then his place in the side must be in jeopardy.

And the most byes conceded in a test innings? Frank Woolley, deputising for an injured Les Ames against Australia in 1934. Woolley was 47 at the time and playing his first test in four years. That was a mistaken selection too and a sad end to a great players' test career.

UPDATE: Just as I was about to post this, Prior makes a smart stumping. Typical!

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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