In case Matt Priors calf strain forces him to miss the opening Ashes Test,taking his place behind the stumps will be Jonny Bairstow. An internationally untested wicket-keeper,who has played 12 Tests as a middle-order batsman. The English bowlers wouldnt really panic as Bairstow isnt a makeshift,he is a regular gloveman for Yorkshire with 171 first-class dismissals to his credit.
Despite that record,skipper Alastair Cook will be desperately hoping that Priors name will be on the team sheet that he will hand over to his Aussie counterpart,Michael Clarke,at the toss at Brisbane on Thursday.
Prior is important to England in general,and specifically to Cook. Not only because he rarely drops a catch,is quick with stumpings and gives vital field-change tips. But during a DRS situation,the 31-year-old happens to be that one sane voice in the highly-opinionated English huddle. Last years closely-fought Ashes series (much closer than the 3-0 result suggested) proved this. Prior would get it right on most occasions and Cook would take his word. End result: England used their reviews better.
Andrew Strauss,the man in charge of England before Cook,revealed during his commentary debut in the previous Ashes just how England would take the DRS call. Strauss said that Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad would always push for the third umpires opinion. However,it was Prior who had the veto when there was a difference of opinion between the fielders. In Priors absence,can Cook trust young Bairstow? Maybe,with time he just might. But during the first Test,Cook will miss Prior when the pushy Swann and determined Broad think they have their man.
During Indias tour to Sri Lanka in 2008,MS Dhoni was injured. His place behind the stumps in the three Tests was first taken by Dinesh Karthik and then,in the third and final Test,by Parthiv Patel. It was the series where DRS was first used. India got their reviews horribly wrong with the young keepers unable to contribute with decisive inputs. So much so that India never recovered from that trauma and became DRS-baiters.
In matches with DRS,the modern day wicketkeeper is an important decision maker. Unlike in the olden days,he doesnt just have to take that split-second call of diving for the catch or leaving it for the first slip.
(Sandeep is the National Sports Editor,based in Delhi.)