The England squad for the upcoming World Cup was announced this week and managed to spring a surprise on everyone, including Matt Prior, who found himself in the 15-man party on their way to the subcontinent. With Surrey’s Steven Davies having been in favour recently and picked for the series in Australia, it looked certain that he would get the position. There are selection shocks, but rarely do they manage to shock the players involved, with Prior saying he was ‘dumbstruck’ in one interview. It may have been unexpected, but the question for England is simple: is it the right decision?
On the face of it, the decision does seem strange. Prior’s last appearance in the one-day squad came in Bangladesh back in March, whilst Davies made his way into the team for the Pakistan series in September. In his 50 innings, Prior averages just 25.38, managing a strike rate of 74.80 and only scoring 50 on two occasions. In the short time Davies has been in the team, he has racked up a 34.85 average over 7 innings of opening the batting alongside Andrew Strauss, at a strike rate of 108.44 and with one 50 score – an 87 to match Prior’s highest score exactly. It is easy to see one set of figures are much more flattering than the others and with this alone it would seem obvious to pick Davies to go and open the batting. Is there more to it?
Prior definitely has experience on his side, having had 43 more innings for England in the ODI arena and been regularly appearing in the side since 2005. In a pressure situation, Prior could put this to use. Going against that, however, is the fact that he has never played in a World Cup. He does have one match in the Champions Trophy, but that really isn’t the same thing.
England team director, Andy Flower, has been quoted as saying he believes Prior is the best choice on the pitches in the subcontinent. The ability of Davies on subcontinent pitches is largely untested, with none of his ODIs having been played there. He did play there for England U19s, averaging 40.11 – although it should be noted a large proportion of those games were against Bangladesh and excluding those his average drops to 28.00. It is impossible to say that U19 games which were played over 5 years ago are a reliable source of expertise now though and his inexperience in the conditions may have played a part in the decision.
It is not like Matt Prior has a sparkling record though; far from it. He averages 21.60 in the subcontinent and that drops further to 18.00 if you take out the games against Bangladesh, with a highest score of just 45. Even these are inflated by series played way back in 2005, with his average in the most recent series – in India in 07/08 – being as low as 15.66. Andy Flower may say he sees Prior as being a specialist for the conditions, but nothing he has done seems to justify that opinion.
My conclusion is that the wrong man has been picked for the squad. Prior has had many chances in the one-day team and has consistently underwhelmed with the bat. He may have played in the subcontinent before, but he has not necessarily been successful in doing so. Steven Davies has looked consistently sharper over his small number of appearances and looks far more promising as England’s ODI keeper in the long run. Unless there is information in the England camp which is being kept secret, I can’t see how this can be the best decision for England’s World Cup campaign.