Prior bullish despite tough day
England's centurion, Matt Prior, has said that his team still fancied their chances of sealing the series against Sri Lanka with a game to spare, despite enduring a tough time in the field on the second day at Lord's. Thanks to an unbeaten century from Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka closed the second day on 231 for 1, a feisty response to their total of 82 all out in the second innings in Cardiff.
"We're an honest enough team to know that we didn't bowl and field as well as we can do, as well as we have done," said Prior at the close. "Things don't always go perfectly to plan in Test cricket. But the thing I know about this team and its character is that we'll come back tomorrow even harder, even better prepared and even more ready and willing to hit the mark again."
The day started well enough for England, with Prior converting his overnight 73 into an impressive 126 from 131 balls, his second Test century at the ground, and his fifth in 42 Tests overall. His performance helped lift England from a precarious 201 for 5 to an imposing 486 all out, although by the close, Dilshan's first century as Sri Lanka captain had redressed the balance significantly.
Asked whether England had expected too little from Sri Lanka in the aftermath of their Cardiff disaster, Prior denied that was the case. "You can't expect to bowl a team out in 25 overs every time you walk out," he said. "I think we just need to go back to basics, take stock of what's happened today - and I'm sure you'll see an improved bowling and fielding performance tomorrow.
"We walked off after our first innings very, very pleased with the score we got. But then Tillakaratne Dilshan came in and played a very good innings, showing great intent on a pretty docile wicket."
England's attack had a menacing look to it at the start of the Test, with Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad all registering between 6'6" and 6'8". However, the lofty approach lacked subtlety on a benign wicket, with Finn in particular struggling for line and length. England severely missed the lateral movement that the injured James Anderson could have provided.
"You are always going to feel like you're missing a guy like Jimmy Anderson, because he's the best swing bowler in the world," said Prior. "He's absolute class, and you always want him in your team.
"But Finny has come in and is a fantastic bowler in his own right. You saw how many wickets he took in the Ashes and in his short career so far. The line-up as it stands, three big guys and Swanny, is a world-class bowling outfit. We know that, and we back them 100%."
With that in mind, Prior reiterated his faith in his team-mates. "This team keeps surprising itself, keeps pulling things out even when it's looking ominous," he said. "To get that score on the board, when we've been 20-odd for 3, is a fantastic effort in the first place.
"We are not in a bad position and still have a 250-lead. If we do bowl and field well tomorrow, there's no reason why we can't get a good first-innings lead. If we bat well again, we're holding all the cards in this Test match."
On a personal note, Prior's fifth Test hundred drew him level with Alan Knott, arguably the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman in England's history, and it was a fact of which he was keenly aware. "It's something I'm very, very proud of," he said. "I do keep track of records of other England wicketkeepers from the past, so it's a nice milestone.
The bulk of his runs on the final day came in a 108-run stand for the seventh wicket with Stuart Broad. However, the manner in which he reached three figures was not the most convincing, as four consecutive edges, including a drop at slip by Mahela Jayawardene, carried him from 86 to 99, before a clip to midwicket secured his name on the honour's board.
"The plan is always to take a little moment to get yourself in, but it didn't really happen ... we went from first gear to sixth, which always happens with Broady," he said. "But in a situation like that, if you're feeling good you almost just have to go with the flow and ride your luck a little bit - and obviously I was very fortunate through the 90s.
"I just thought 'it's my day'. Mahela Jayawardene is one of best, if not the best, slip fielders I've ever seen, so when he drops you you know you're on a good thing. You need a bit of luck every now and then, and I had my fair share."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo