As expected, England included wicketkeeper Matt Prior as part of the 12-man squad announced on Thursday for the first Test against Sri Lanka, which gets underway at Lord’s on June 12.
However, the vice-captain will also be more than aware that limited-overs stumper Jos Buttler is ready to now step up a level and take his place in the longer form of the game if Prior’s recent malaise with the bat continues this summer.
For now, though, one can understand just why captain Alastair Cook and new head coach Peter Moores were so keen to press for Prior’s recall to a lineup that is desperately short of Test-match experience, especially in the batting department.
Always an honour to be selected for your country. Can't wait for next week!— Matt Prior (@MattPrior13) June 5, 2014
Without Prior’s inclusion, England would be taking on Sri Lanka next week with a top seven comprising only the experienced duo of the skipper himself and Ian Bell, whereas the return of the 32-year-old with 75 Test caps to his name has added some much-needed ballast to that crucial area of the side.
This is, after all, someone with almost 4,000 Test runs—including seven centuries, at an average of 40.83—we are talking about. Prior also demonstrated his return to form with the bat for Sussex by recording the first ton of the new County Championship season when playing solely as a batsman against Middlesex at Hove in April.
And with the wicketkeeper having also made his return with the gloves for the first time this season following a chronic Achilles tendon injury against both Glamorgan in a Twenty20 contest last Friday, and then again in a four-day Division One clash with Nottinghamshire that ended on Wednesday, the England selectors were clearly satisfied enough to end Prior’s brief two-Test exile.
One man who has no doubts, however, about Prior’s readiness to resume his international career in St John’s Wood on Thursday morning is Sussex’s director of cricket Mark Robinson.
“Ideally he would have had more time in the ring but he is ready mentally,” said Robinson, who has been managing Prior’s comeback, in The Telegraph.
“My God he is hungry and ready to play. Senior players are dangerous when they are like that. If I was Alastair Cook I would want him next to me.”
However, while Robinson is no doubt right in what he says, Prior also still needs to prove to Cook and Co. that his so-far brief return to both form and fitness are not just fleeting episodes but are instead here to stay throughout the summer and beyond.
As with just 245 runs in the bank from his last 15 innings, including only one half-century, at a paltry average of 18.8, there is now no more room for slip-ups with the bat as far as Prior is concerned.
Meanwhile, Prior will also have to keep managing both the calf injury that restricted his tour of Australia last winter and his ongoing Achilles problem via the use of painkillers and cortisone jabs until the end of the year.
That's a far-from-ideal scenario for a wicketkeeper to contend with as he prepares to embark on a summer of seven Tests.
Are England right to select Matt Prior over Jos Buttler to be their Test wicketkeeper against Sri Lanka?
And all the while waiting patiently in the wings is England’s 50-over and Twenty20 keeper, a man very much in the headlines at present following both his record-breaking hundred against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in the fourth one-day international last Saturday and his controversial run-out in the deciding game of the series at Edgbaston three days later.
In fact, it was in the immediate aftermath of the first of those two memorable innings, Buttler’s 121 from just 74 deliveries in what was the fastest-ever ODI century made at the home of cricket, that Cook explained his reservations about calling the 23-year-old up to the Test side.
The captain explained his reasoning to the Daily Mail:
Jos has certainly found his method in one-day cricket. But he’s yet to find the tempo he needs in first-class cricket and I think he would agree he needs more time to do that. He will go on to have an outstanding career in Test cricket but, to be honest, I don’t think he’s ready for that now.
But Cook also knows that any more failures with the bat or fitness relapses by Prior during the next two Tests with Sri Lanka, and the calls for the Lancastrian to be handed his Test debut against India in July will become deafening.
In fact, Moores was even full of praise for Buttler after England's loss to Sri Lanka in the fifth and final ODI at Edgbaston on Tuesday night which handed the tourists a 3-2 series win, speaking to Sky Sports:
Well obviously Jos has been talked about a lot. I mean certainly, how he played the other day doesn't do him any harm, it was a fantastic innings.
And I think Jos is a rapidly-emerging player so he's certainly, as I say, done himself no harm.
And despite Cook’s and others' doubts about Buttler’s ability to bat in the longer form of the game, the wicketkeeper-batsman is now ready for the challenge of succeeding Prior in the Test arena.