Classy Prior cuts loose in England's run feast


Last updated at 09:02 19 May 2007

England thought long and hard before declaring Matt Prior the winner of the great race to be their wicketkeeper to face West Indies. On Friday he vindicated the first big decision of the Peter Moores regime with a history-making hundred that oozed authority and class.

It says everything about the keeper's place in the modern game that Prior will be judged almost solely on his ability to score Test centuries rather than his dexterity with the gloves.

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Paul Collingwood

Consequently, after beginning his England career with the most spectacular of performances on the second day of the first npower Test, he has already gone a long way to making the position his own without even picking up the gauntlets.

Prior produced strokeplay that was beyond his team- mates, including his fellow century-makers Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, to turn this Test into the slaughter of the under-prepared West Indies innocents that everyone had feared.

When Prior cut Chris Gayle for his 16th four to reach a hundred off 105 balls, he became the 17th Englishman to score a century on debut and the first keeper.

The South African-born Prior could not have asked for more favourable circumstances in which to take his bow - but how he took advantage of his good fortune.

He arrived with England on 363 for five, Collingwood having made the sort of "ugly" century that he smilingly accepts is his stock in trade.

Prior joined Bell, who had quietly reached

56. Even in his wildest dreams the wicket-keeper could not have expected to beat the Warwickshire man to three figures.

What followed was not only the best batting of the match so far but a mightily impressive debut for a batsman who had yet to score a halfcentury this season, nor reach 50 in any of his 12 one-day internationals.

Prior grabbed this match by the scruff of the neck with a series of cover drives and pulls that would have made even his mentor and manager Alec Stewart proud.

There was more than a hint of Stewart in Prior's demeanour and attacking intent. During the winter he had watched Geraint Jones, Chris Read and Paul Nixon all have a go with the gloves but none made a sufficiently persuasive case to impress the old keeping pair of Moores and his assistant Andy Flower.

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Jerome Taylor

Now Prior has put down a marker to establish himself as a feasible candidate finally to fill Stewart's boots.

All the while, new coach Moores looked on with the quiet satisfaction of someone who first spotted the potential of Prior as a 13-yearold in Brighton and who has been the most significant figure, even more so than Stewart, in his development.

Moores was adamant before this game that his close association with Prior had nothing to do with his elevation and, I understand, it was a close run thing before the Sussex man gained the selectorial nod ahead of James Foster and Tim Ambrose. Prior will take some shifting now.

It was tough on the West Indies bowlers, who had learned from their naivety in perfect conditions on Thursday.

They produced a much better display in the sunshine on Friday but it was ruined by shoddy fielding and hopeless catching.

Collingwood was the chief beneficiary as he was dropped on 31 and 36 and survived what looked like a plumb lbw shout from Jerome Taylor before reaching his fourth Test century and second at Lord's.

At the time England were producing something close to old-time, almost soporific, Test cricket. But there is nothing wrong with steady accumulation in bowler-friendly conditions - and that is exactly what Cook, Collingwood and Bell produced to take the Test and, in all probability, the series away from the poor West Indians. Prior then spectacularly put his foot on the accelerator.

Ramnaresh Sarwan gave his inexperienced team a chance to confound the odds when he won an important toss but the West Indies simply did not have the quality to take advantage, the colourful Runako Morton summing up their plight by collapsing to the ground in frustration at second slip when Daren Ganga dropped an absolute dolly at gully to hand Collingwood his first reprieve.

Not since 1938 have four Englishmen produced Test centuries in the same innings, but when bad light finally came to the West Indies' rescue with 12 overs of the day remaining, England had raced to 553 for five - 273 of those having come in the 58 overs bowled after lunch.

Almost unnoticed amid Prior's pyrotechnics, Bell cruised to his sixth Test century and his fourth while batting at No 6.

The West Indies attack, notably Daren Powell and Dwayne Bravo, soldiered on manfully but only Bravo's removal of Collingwood with one that nipped back and took the top of off-stump could alleviate their gloom.

England will surely declare overnight and unleash Steve Harmison on Saturday. With the Geordie on form and desperate to prove a point after the Ashes, it may not be about to get any better for the struggling tourists.

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