Top critical review
Play Up And Play The Game
on 21 December 2014
For those of us who simply see cricket as bowler against batsman Matt Prior provides an interesting insight into the life of a modern cricketer. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of that life is the illusion that cricket is a game for gentlemen and by the end of the book any notion that 'it's just not cricket' has been destroyed by references to sledging, foul language and cheating. Prior himself was often accused of arrogance which he denies, attributing this misinterpretation of his persona as confidence. The downside of confidence is over-sensitivity which Prior experienced in 2008 when he was dropped from the England team. He claims, ' No one should ever underestimate the effect being dropped can have on you. Mentally it can leave the deepest scars....(and) some just never come to to terms with being left out by England'. Yet the response of professional sportspeople tends to fall into two categories. When Steve Ovett was not selected for a major Games he decided he would become so good he would never be left out of the team again. Those who give in should ask themselves whether they are professional enough in the first instance.
Prior's response was to consider giving up wicket keeping and concentrate solely on batting but Alec Stewart, who like Prior was a batsman who kept wicket ,encouraged the Sussex man to keep at it for another year. Prior realised he wasn't working hard enough at his keeping technique and he rectified this by practicing with Peter Moores, Bruce French and Rod Marsh and learning the difference between the English and Australian methods, finally settling for a combination of the two. Whereas mere spectators such as this reviewer sees the wicket keeper simply as someone to catch the ball, Prior points out that the ball used in English cricket wobbles particularly when bowled by swing and spin bowlers. Reading Prior's description and analysis of his technique provides an insight into what professional wicket keeping is all about and it's far more complicated than catching the ball.
Like many professional sportsmen Prior got caught up in various training fads such as weight training, running, outdoor pursuits and now has a preference for cycling. He is also prone to habit, downing two litres of electrolyte drink every night before a play day, has a careful diet (porridge, two poached eggs on brown toast, black coffee, orange juice with creatine). A fifteen minute bath on the morning of a day's play is also part of his routine (or is it superstition?). Prior doesn't know but he thinks he needs it, just as he still wears the first cap he received playing for England in every test match. That seems to be less important recently as Jos Buttler appears to have emerged as a wicketkeeper/batsman. Although he is in favour of the Decision Referral System he makes the point that such referrals often do not result in changing the umpire's decision. In fact he argues that in some cases 'the third umpire is making a guess decision as much as anyone else'.
He recalls the Stanford 20/20 competition with distaste as it was publicity stunt for Stanford, rather than a cricketing competition (Stanford is currently serving 110 years imprisonment for investment fraud). That was followed by the terrorist attack in Mumbai which caused the England team to return home and then reluctantly return to India for two outstanding tests. In Prior's case he was partially motivated by the fact he might get his test place back. He claims to have other things on his mind which accounts for his shock when the split between Kevin Pieterson and Peter Moores became public knowledge. Both men lost their posts, although Moores is back as England coach and Pieterson remains exiled. Prior was part of the very successful Sussex team, winning their first County Championship title for 164 years which was promptly followed by a lap of honour to the tune of 'Sussex by the Sea', not exactly cricket but permitted by the umpires. Prior attributes the county's success in that and subsequent years to everyone pulling in the same direction. Cricket rarely has time for individuals such as Pieterson and Boycott.
Of course there is gamesmanship in cricket as in any other sport. The England twelfth man was sent out to inform the last pair of batsmen they only had to last out for another ten minutes to draw an Ashes test at Cardiff in 2009. The pretext was a drink and a pair of batting gloves for Jimmy Anderson who promptly spilt his drink on the gloves and needed another pair!! England won the Ashes but there was no display of the embarrassing drunkenness of the open top bus parade that had marred their 2005 victory. In the 2010/11 series in Australia Prior recalls the hostile nature of the Gabba in Brisbane. Prior's description of his nervousness before and on the day of the test is revealing. He thought he was alright until he received his first ball from Peter Siddle then turned to see his stumps everywhere. Siddle, who had taken Cook's wicket before Prior's, then took Broad's to complete a hat-trick. Amazingly, England salvaged a draw.
Throughout his book Prior is at pains to emphasise how quickly a game can change which is why concentration levels must never drop. He also mentions that a team can compete at 70% fitness and still win. Eddie Paynter, of course, proved that in the Bodyline series. Prior is a great fan of Alistair Cook (who has just been deposed as England's One-Day captain), Ian Bell, Andrew Flitcroft, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson. He admires South Africa's Jacques Kallis, 'the greatest all-round cricketer to have played the game" (in fairness he never saw Keith Miller play). Prior does seem self-absorbed. He never saw Andrew Strauss's or Kevin Pieterson's exits from the team. To that extent the book is disappointing and deserves only three stars.