Matt Prior: New Zealand has my full focus, not Ashes
Last Updated: 16/05/13 9:42am
Matt Prior's love of cycling has sparked an upshift in his Test form and fitness.
The 31-year-old became the first wicketkeeper to win the England Cricketer of the Year award ahead of this week's first Test against New Zealand, after scoring 879 runs at an average of 55 and claiming 28 catches and five stumpings in the last 12 months.
"The one thing that took me by surprise was the escapism. You are out here with a lot of time to yourself with no mobile phones and no worrying about cricket."
And ahead of the first Test against New Zealand he told former Sussex team-mate turned Sky Sports presenter Ian Ward that getting into the saddle last year has not only improved his fitness but provides him with a valuable form of escapism.
"It came about through the Achilles problems that I had throughout last year and the winter beforehand," said Prior, who has claimed 183 catches and 13 stumpings in 65 Tests overall.
"I got to a point where long-distance running and certainly the treadmill wasn't going to work for me anymore and they pretty much put a ban on me going on that.
"I did most of my training on the treadmill and I had to find something else. It just so happened that it also came at a time when Sir Bradley Wiggins, as we call him now, was winning the Tour de France and the Olympics and I thought 'I'll give that a go'.
"My Dad used to do quite a bit in South Africa when, obviously, I was quite a bit younger. He actually said 'I think you should give it a go'. I did and I loved it.
"One of the reasons I took to it was the cycling position is pretty much the position I'm going to be in when I'm wicketkeeping for six hours a day. When you put that position on a bicycle it feels comfortable for me whereas a lot of people struggle to be quite low and it hurts their neck and their back.
"I did it for the Achilles and didn't think for one minute that it was going to be something that I really enjoyed. Out here on the South Downs, this is now training - this is work. Having spent 12 years in a horrible gym beating out the treadmill or doing power-cleans, I'd rather be here now to be honest!
"The one thing that took me by surprise was the escapism. You are out here with a lot of time to yourself with no mobile phones and no worrying about cricket. You get back having gone for a couple of hours' ride and you do feel very good about yourself and like you've had a couple of hours away.
"I still do a lot of power work in the gym, leg weights - that sort of stuff - but the cycling certainly helps [my wicketkeeping] because primarily you are just using your legs and the most important thing is that you are in the position that you would be as a wicketkeeper."
Prior, dropped from the Test team after a poor tour of Sri Lanka at the end of 2007, has become in the eyes of some the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world under the guidance of Bruce French, England's wicketkeeping coach.
However he insists that neither he nor England, who lost their status as the world's best Test side to South Africa last summer, are looking beyond the upcoming two-match series against New Zealand despite the looming prospect of back-to-back Ashes series.
Prior's caution is plausible after this winter's 0-0 draw with New Zealand in which Prior contributed an unbeaten 110 to an improbable fifth-day rear-guard in Auckland that denied the home side victory.
The memory of England's fourth Test capitulation to Australia in the fourth Ashes Test of 2009 - a match the tourists won by an innings and 80 runs - remains a persistent deterrent.
"In 2009 we got a bit ahead of ourselves in an Ashes series at Headingley and suddenly we were bowled out for 120 and it was 1-1 going into the final Test and we were up against it again.
"We made that decision that day, I remember, saying that we are never going to look too far again because it is so dangerous.
"Of course everyone is excited about the Ashes and wants to talk about them but as a playing unit we can't afford to do that.
"Our complete focus is this Test series against New Zealand and from an individual point of view my complete focus is Lord's and making sure I perform to the best of my ability and the team's ability in that one game.
"Once we've taken care of that then we can look at the second Test but we are not looking any further ahead than that."