Sense of Loss

When cricketers retire because of injury, there is always a sense of loss. This is true even when the departures of the two England wicket-keepers who have left the game's stage in the last ten days were very far from unexpected.

With Craig Kieswetter, there is a sense of loss born of what might have been. In the case of Matthew Prior there is a sense of losing what actually was, even if the sad reality is that it was long, long gone.

On the broad acres of his adopted home ground at Taunton, the young Kieswetter stood out in ways that were never shrouded in subtlety or mystery. He always looked the part, standing with unfeigned comfort and self-possession at the root of the cordon, usually with Marcus and James Hildreth by his side. For a few seasons, for those of us who inhabit the Hill, or the Botham Stand, or even the one named after Marcus himself, there was comfort and familiarity in that. He used to vie with Jos Buttler for the gloves, and circumstances dictated that it was Somerset's very own world-beater who left. Craig was never quite going to be a world-beater, but he could keep alright, and would have got better as time passed. And he could really bat. The one-day arena saw him at his best, but the essentials of his game were the same whatever the context. To take just one, there was his characteristic off-drive, played with a distinctive flourish and the timing and withering power of one brought up on the type of track that encourages, indeed demands, virile, punishing strokeplay.

A South African hard wicket player.

If this evokes a stereotype then it isn't appropriate. There was also an intrinsic subtlety and wristiness to his shots, while away from the arena he always seemed a balanced and understated character. You can bet that he would have played for Somerset long into the future. Perhaps England too, with the glorious rebirth of the national side's one-day cricket which the last week has seen suiting him down to the ground. It may or may not have happened, but Craig would have welcomed the chance to make it so.

A lasting memory, from a season or two back, sees me passing him as he came away from the Millichamp and Hall bat workshop that lies behind the Ondaatje Pavilion at Taunton. He had a clutch of brand new, logoless bats under his arm. The tools of his trade. Some of those probably never struck a ball in anger, and now they never will.

Unlike Craig Kieswetter, Matt Prior fulfilled his potential everywhere but in the one-day arena. During his, and England's, greatest recent days I saw a lot of Prior at Lord's, including both his Test centuries there. One, against the West Indies on debut, felt like snatching candy from kids, the other, against India in 2011, when he and Stuart Broad took the game away from England's opponents on a crystal blue Sunday afternoon, still feels to me like a matchlessly evocative summation of all that Flower and Strauss's England were. Prior the batsman was a focal part of that time, bounding onto the pitch, sweatbands on wrists, with endless confidence, aggression and damaging intent. Quick singles to start, always challenging the field, then, as bowlers tired and dropped short, there would be cuts and pulls. Overpitch and it would be one of the most powerful and reliable cover-drives in world cricket.

In those days, when Matt Prior was at the wicket, everything felt right.

Lord's against India was where it all ended for Prior too. An injury-ravaged performance in defeat, capped by a witless stroke and a proud, defiant exit. Watching him walk through the Long Room that day last July, head held high and expression fixed, there was a strong sense of an era ending.

A true sense of loss.


Chris Smith said...

Brian, I find Kieswetter's retirement the more of a loss, if only because Prior must have come close to fulfilling his potential. He really was a world class Test all-rounder and seemed to have the authority to help England move on from the 2011 vintage. I wonder how close he came to captaining the side. I recall Atherton suggesting it shortly after Prior appeared to broker KP's post-texting return. Clearly not something KP is rushing to credit him with.
I wish I had seen more of Kieswetter's 'virile' batting, as you put it. I imagine it could have been confusing playing the pinch-hitting role under England's ancien ODI regime. How committed was the team management to his role, etc?
Good to see you blogging again.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks for those thoughts, Chris.

Possibly the greatest sadness about Kieswetter is that he's been forced to retire just as England have finally started to play one-day cricket properly. In form - and his best hadn't been seen in international cricket by any means - he would have fitted very well into that side, perhaps instead of Roy as an opening partner for Hales (although I think Roy will come good in time).

It was nice to see Prior get his just dues in many appreciations - I thought Selvey wrote a very good one. It's one of those situations where it may take a few years for people to appreciate just how good England were during his time in the side and how important Prior was.

As I tried to convey in the piece, I saw some of his best Lord's innings for England, and I just loved his style.

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