There aren’t many things that keep us awake at night in 51allout towers – our epic gin consumption sees to that. Unfortunately, one of the things that does actually prevent us from sleeping soundly under our cardboard duvets is the prospect of Matt Prior being injured. Prior has been such an integral part of Team England (at least in the five day format) over the last few years that we can’t really imagine the side without him. Alas, we may have to do more than imagine it in just over a week’s time, when the Ashes kicks off in Brisbane; Prior is currently rated as something of a doubt after suffering a minor tear to his calf.
If Prior is ruled out, England’s only reserve wicket-keeper is one Jonathan Marc Bairstow. It’s probably fair to say that we won’t be massively chuffed to see him play, even if he is hidden down at number seven, out of the way of the real batsmen.
Bairstow’s Test career so far is a series of promising starts but little in the way of real substance. So far he’s made 20 visits to the crease and not passed 100 once. Four half centuries and an average of 30.22 aren’t exactly anything to shout about either. But beyond the cold hard numbers, there’s that much more elusive and hard to explain ‘presence’ (or lack thereof) at the crease.
Despite a rubbish Ashes series, in which England regularly started about as well as this article, Joe Root still had one magical innings in him, a rather splendid 180 at Lord’s. It was exactly the sort of headline grabbing knock that Bairstow doesn’t seem capable of doing. Even Jos Buttler, for all his faults, such as being a big traitorous girl, is clearly capable of magic innings. Bairstow, on the other hand, is distinctly functional, capable of making a nice 60 every so often, while otherwise putting together a run of scores more often associated with one Mark Ravin Ramprakash.
Bairstow seems to be a horrible starter at the crease, scratching around like a large ginger chicken while looking distinctly vulnerable to anything straight and full. Or straight and fast. Basically, anything straight makes us (and him) really nervous.
Of course, there’s a difference between batting at number six and number seven. At number six there’s an expectation on the last ‘proper’ batsman to make the most of the situation. At seven it’s basically a massive free for all jamboree, in which no-one really gives a shit. Hopefully Bairstow can flourish in the latter environment, as long as the opposition don’t bowl at his stumps. Or his face. Or he doesn’t melt in the rather warm Brisbane summer.
And while we’re busy laying the boot into our fouth most favourite cricketing ginger, we should probably point out that Matt Prior also stank out the summer with his batting, averaging just 19 in the Ashes and 14.33 against New Zealand. But it’s much easier to put that down as the exception, rather than the norm – Prior has proved his class on numerous occasions beforehand, for a start. His game is also well suited to Australian pitches. Plus he’s just cool, in exactly the way that Jonny isn’t.
In terms of actual wicketkeeping, there’s no doubt that Prior is in a different class. Bairstow will probably be alright to the seamers, but the prospect of him standing up to Graeme Swann makes us feel a little sick inside. Basically, we really, really want, no need Matt Prior to be fit. Without him England will be a worse side with the bat, behind the stumps and in terms of leadership on the field. It’s not a pretty picture at all.