Cricket star Matt Prior juggles his Sussex and England cricket committments
PUBLISHED: 00:24 28 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:06 20 February 2013
Like all England's stars, Matt Prior is so busy with the national team that his county hardly sees him. Ahead of his benefit season, we catch up with the talented keeper-batsman.
It would be easy to forget that Matt Prior plays cricket for Sussex. Like all Englands current stars, the wicket-keeper batsman is so busy with the national team that his county hardly sees him, these days. Gone are the times when Dexter, Snow and Greig sandwiched as many Sussex games as they could into full seasons for England.
Through no fault, nor choice, of Priors cricket has changed. England comes first. In between playing, training, travelling and resting, centrally contracted players have little time for the county circuit.
Luckily for Sussex, Prior hasnt replicated his test match form in one day or T20 cricket. So, when England players don the coloured clothes against West Indies, South Africa and Australia this summer, barring an injury epidemic amongst our young keeper-batsmen, Prior will once again be free to smash it around the park for Sussex.
Just as well, too. Its his benefit season. And despite Priors recent enforced absences, its one he very much deserves.
Counties award benefits for sterling service over a period of ten or more years, and Prior played seven full seasons for Sussex before he got in the England side. In 2003, he scored 1006 runs, including four centuries, as the men from Hove won the County Championship for the first time in their history. Three years later, when Sussex repeated the feat, Prior scored 934 runs, with three more hundreds. The following season, having been called up for England duty, he was a peripheral figure, as Sussex completed a hat-trick of Championships. But he was back in 2008, after mistakes in Sri Lanka cost him his England place. Thirteen first class games for Sussex brought 900 runs.
I still regard Sussex as home, says Prior, whos lived in the county since his family moved from Johannesburg when he was eleven. Whenever Im back I try to get involved, and when Im away, I often call Yards (Sussex captain Michael Yardy) and the coach, with ideas for the team.
Since that 2008 season, Prior has been an England test match regular. At his best, hes a swashbuckling batsman, capable of taking a game away from the opposition in a single session. His hundreds at number seven, and the speed at which he scores, have played a big part in Englands rise to number one in the test match rankings. Hes no Adam Gilchrist (who is?), but now, its Australia, India and the rest who have to chase leather from the bat of the worlds best wicket-keeper batsman.
His wicket keeping has improved tremendously, too, says Jim Parks, the last Sussex gloveman, before Prior, to score hundreds for England. At first he was a reluctant wicket keeper, but now he is really good. Prior, himself, agrees. I had to work really hard to get back into the England team, he says. Having some good days behind the stumps, and then some bad ones wasnt going to get me back in the England team. I needed to be more consistent, and hopefully, now, I am.
Priors had his fair share of good days with Sussex too. None, though, match the final game of that first Championship season. Sussex had bagged the big one, and Matt Prior was there. For an hour it was just the team, sitting in the middle, he says. The spectators had gone home and with the pressure finally off, we could reflect on what wed achieved and joke about the seasons high and lows.
For Prior, 2003 was very much a team effort. We didnt have the big name superstars, but everyone performed, particularly when we needed it, Prior says. He remembers, in particular, the third last game against Middlesex. We were 107-6 and about to throw away the Championship, when Mark Davis comes in, hits a career-best 168 and we go on to win the game. Davis, a journeyman all-rounder, whos now on the Sussex coaching staff, more than doubled his entire seasons tally in that one innings. At the other end, Matt Prior smashed 148 from 153 balls.
It epitomises what that season was about, Prior says. Whenever we needed a performance, someone stepped up.
Sussex has always been a cricketing county. What its football and rugby teams have lacked, the men in white, and now blue, more than make up for. Ted, Tony and John, mentioned earlier, were three of Englands very best, as was Englands Ashes winning womens captain, Clare Connor. Imran Khan, Mushtaq Ahmed and the ninth Nawab of Pataudi, were three Asian stars who did Sussex proud. As overseas fast bowlers go, Garth Le Roux and Franklyn Stephenson were better than most. Further back, Maurice Tate, Englands pre-war Angus Fraser, the Langridges and Duleepsinhji, lit up Hove long before the committee installed flood lights in 1998. So too, in that golden age of cricket, did the great Ranjitsinhji, and the even greater Charles Burgess Fry, a man who could also perform on the athletics track, the football and rugby field, not to mention in the newsroom, the classroom and the diplomats office.
Matt Prior is the latest in a long line of Sussex cricketing stars, yet he nearly didnt play the game, at all. Thanks to the insistence of Mr Prior senior, Sussex and England have the nearest thing theyve ever had to Adam Gilchrist. When my dad arranged my first cricket session, I really didnt want to go, Prior says. I was eight, and football mad, but dad persuaded me, I loved it, and from that moment on, couldnt get enough.
Whether he gets enough to catapult him into the same dizzy heights as Gilchrist, might depend on whether Australia, India, South Africa and the rest find a few bowlers capable of getting through Englands top six. And then, keep those bowlers fit.
Matt Priors favourite Sussex:
Pub Royal Oak, Wineham. Proper old school food and they serve beer out of kegs. Ginger Fox near Henfield good food, and a really nice play area for the kids.
Restaurant Hotel du Vin, Brighton. Toasted brioche and pork bellies. Just wonderful.
Place Too many to choose from. Sussex has everything seafront, beautiful countryside, lovely villages, great towns.
Pastime Golf, Im obsessed with it. I play at Mannings Heath, East Sussex National, Copthorne and Goodwood.
Memory cream teas in Ditchling, with mum, when I was a kid. Every Sunday.
To find out what events Matt has planned for his benefit, visit www.mattpriorbenefityear2012.com