Resurgent and declining fortunes for Haddin and Prior.
Despite all the attention being on England’s annihilation to Mitchell Johnson at both The Gabba and The Adelaide Oval, there have been plenty of sub-plots involved in the Ashes thus far – none more so than the continuing fortunes of each side’s glovesmen.
While Brad Haddin has come out all guns blazing in a bid to resurrect his career, Matt Prior on the other hand has fallen away so dramatically that many are already calling for him to be axed before the series is even three Tests old.
In a spectacular turn around of events from a year ago – where Prior was being hailed as the best wicketkeeper-batsman is the world and Haddin forced to watch from the sidelines behind Matthew Wade in the reckoning, it has been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for both men.
There remains many striking similarities between the pair. Both are vice-captains of their respective sides and both are important ‘Team before themselves men’ in a sense that they are willing to play in any role that their team requires at any given time. But perhaps the biggest comparison would have to be each man’s willingness to counter-attack with the bat when their side is either ahead or behind the game.
After spending six months completely out of the game, Haddin was reintroduced into the Test side in March for Australia’s tour of India – with the thought being that he was a far superior player of spin bowling to the incumbent Wade, but also more importantly for his off field experience that was vastly needed in a team both low on confidence and togetherness.
That time away form the game, due to a serious illness to his young daughter Mia, in which he spent most of his time beside her hospital bed, has helped Haddin clear his head of any negative thoughts on the game of cricket. After all it is only a game – when there are far more important things going on in life.
His 50th Test at The Gabba was the true turnaround in his career. Coming in amidst an Australian batting collapse, he added a match turning seventh-wicket partnership of 114 with Johnson to guide his side to a more respectable first innings total of 295. To follow that first innings 94 he scored an almost run-a-ball 53 in the second dig to allow Michael Clarke a deceleration.
The rejuvenated 36-year-old then blazed his way to a superb 118 in Adelaide, again contributing with the bat when his team needed it most. Finding himself at the wicket with the game still in the balance, he was at first watchful alongside Clarke before cutting loose and taking the attack to both English spinners, and in due course adding a 200-run association with his captain for the sixth wicket.
The determination and fight shown by Haddin across the two Tests speaks volumes of a man determined not to lose another Ashes campaign. Despite a good batting record against the old enemy, he has been unable to stop his country from losing their previous three Ashes encounters.
In stark contrast his opposite number Prior has had a six months to forget. His form has seemingly completely deserted him since he scored a match saving hundred in New Zealand last March and was subsequently named England’s player of the year – a richly deserved award after a stellar 2012 with both bat and gloves.
Since then though his form has gone down like a lead balloon. Seven Ashes Tests have brought him just 206 runs at an average of less than 20. Certainly not form befitting a man who has up until now averaged around 44 in his 70-odd Test matches.
At The Gabba, he was out twice to obnoxious Nathan Lyon deliveries for a grand total of five runs in the match. On both occasions England needed much more from their reigning player of the year – its no coincidence that when Prior plays well – so do his country.
With many already calling his place in the side into question, he did himself no favours with a tepid first innings knock in Adelaide. After being worked over by the short ball from Johnson for three deliveries he duly obliged by edging his fourth into the waiting gloves of Haddin behind the wicket. Again this was not the way for an experienced campaigner to play when his side were staring down the barrel at 5-117.
Although he batted his way into some sort of nick in the second innings with an innings of 69, it was the way in which he played which suggested a man still struggling with his shell shocked mindset. Whilst his began to look some way towards the Prior of old against the spin of Lyon, he continued to regularly play and miss against the quicks. Playing with little care for the match situation and slogging anything he saw slightly in his zone, his eventual dismissal signalled the end of England’s fight as he became another victim of the ‘Happy Hooking Syndrome’ that has plagued England’s batsmen for the past two Test matches.
With the gloves there is also a contrasting difference between both Haddin and Prior. Haddin has taken everything coming his way, whilst the usually reliable Prior has been sloppy in both Tests. This reached its head none more so than in Australia’s first innings in Adelaide – where Prior missed catches, stumpings and run outs far to often for a man of his stature.
Perhaps the most striking of all the stats from this series so far is the averages between the two men. After his three innings Haddin averages 88.33 whilst after four knocks Prior just 18.25. Whilst stats don’t tell the whole story, they don’t often lie – There is no way Prior should be averaging 70 less than his counterpart.
Whilst there is no doubt that Prior will continue with the gloves for the rest of the series, England’s selectors will still wonder when their once prize asset will return to the top of his game – if he doesn’t then either Jonny Bairstow or Jos Buttler will be given a chance sooner than expected.
For Australia, Haddin will keep believing that he will get a chance to hold up the precious little urn sooner rather than later – for what he’s been through in the past 18 months – very few would begrudge him that.