Every so often, life delivers a cruel reminder that it is finite. We are just momentary miniscule clusters of atoms that as soon as we are born, are about to die. If the tedious bit in-between is remotely enjoyable, then fan-bloody-tastic. Death is inevitable, with the exception of Meat Loaf, who a year after retirement, is back playing concerts in Las Vegas, like some kind of pomp-rocking Shahid Afridi.
Cricketing careers also have to come to an end, yet there is constant surprise when they do. At least in England. As Aussie Matt pointed out in this week’s podcast, the great Australian cricketers tend to manage their farewells so that they bow out in front of upstanding home crowds (often at the SCG following another Ashes victory). Similarly, modern greats such as Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis have retired more or less on their own terms – the former with some help from the man at the BCCI who determines the schedule of series. But when was the last England player to do the same?
Kevin Pietersen was sacked. Jonathan Trott, presuming he never plays for England again, left with his illness mid-series. Graeme Swann retired during the same series. Andrew Strauss reached 100 Tests, but decided to retire after the series defeat to South Africa. Michael Vaughan departed at the hand of Graeme Smith, whilst Graham Thorpe was just not picked in 2005. Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison had their careers ended by the selectors. Nasser Hussain bowed out on a high after scoring an unbeaten century to defeat New Zealand, but announced his retirement a few days after the game ended. The most recent example of a player able to announce his final Test was Andrew Flintoff during the summer of 2009; before that is was probably Alec Stewart in 2003. It now also seems likely that Matthew Prior is the latest England star (we use star relatively) to see his international career end in untimely style.
England owe Matt Prior a lot. More than a lot. He was the cornerstone of the successful era under the Two Andrews. He might not have won as many matches single-handed as Alastair Cook, Graeme Swann or Kevin Pietersen, but overall England would have fared significantly worse without him. Just consider the various understudies he had: at best decent county glovemen, at worse, Jonny Bairstow. He was a senior pro. He was the good egg. He was instrumental in bringing Pietersen back into the team following his texts to the South Africans. His return to the team at the start of this summer was regarded as vital – Captain Cook’s Sergeant, the experienced and respected man who could help integrate new players to the setup.
Although he scored 125 for Sussex in a Championship game, he was only able to play one more First Class match before the Sri Lankan Test series. He made 86 at Lord’s, but his batting regressed again thereafter, whilst his wicket-keeping was shoddy, at best, throughout. Late swinging balls and dipping bounce were offered as mitigating reasons, but it was clear that his best days were as behind him as four byes. His confession that he was injured – in at least two ways – was alarming. If any position in a team requires the player to be completely fit, it’s the wicket-keeper. Irrespective of form, a damaged quad muscle and shredded Achilles (plus bruised hands) do not add up to a sensible state for a keeper to be in. That the England selectors (who otherwise have actually done well this season) opted to include Prior, presumably despite knowing his fitness, is very strange indeed, notwithstanding his pedigree and potential role as some kind of elder statesman / non-absolute c**t.
Enter Jos Buttler, who over the course of two innings at Southampton, reassured doubters, including us, that he could keep wicket competently at this level. The future is his and Prior’s career now seems over. It was in decline, but we, like others, hoped it would continue in a manner similar to fellow thirty-something Brad Haddin (who is actually four years older).
We will miss Prior for many reasons. His beard, for example. His flying dives striving to catch another Steven Finn legside wide. Those counter attacking innings that took matches away from the opposition (although our favourite innings was the unbeaten century to rescue a draw at Auckland in 2013). His energy. His calmness when faced with Stuart Broad pleading for a decision to be reviewed. Did we mention his beard? But since that innings in Auckland, he hasn’t been the same. England recently were in their own version of hell. He is out of that hell now, albeit he hasn’t officially retired. We wish him well: hopefully post-surgery he can find something, whether on the cricket field or off it, that brings him as much satisfaction and enjoyment as his Test career brought England fans. He deserves it, and as Meat Loaf continues to sing, heaven can wait.