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May 29, 2014
Time has almost run out for Matt Prior to make a return to the England Test side against Sri Lanka. With the Test squad set to be announced late next week he has just one Championship match remaining to prove his fitness.
Even if Prior played and kept wicket in the match against Nottinghamshire, and in the NatWest T20 Blast on Friday, it would still be a huge risk to select him.
An Achilles problem - which Prior has managed for considerable time - has limited him to just one Championship appearance this season, the opening match against Middlesex, where he scored a hundred but did not have the gloves.
He was withdrawn from Sussex's rain-ruined return fixture against Middlesex at Merchant Taylor's School so he could undertake intense work with Bruce French, the England wicketkeeping coach, to further assess the state of his injury but there is still no guarantee he will keep in the T20 against Glamorgan.
A fit Prior was all-but assured of reclaiming the place he lost after the third Test against Australia in Perth. Alastair Cook has been having regular conversations with Prior, who was also the Test vice-captain when he was dropped, but knows that rushing back from such an injury could have long term consequences.
"It is a big concern," Cook said. "I've been speaking to him every week and he's been doing everything he can. He's incredibly frustrated because Achilles injuries are hard to heal.
"He's a big part of our plans, but we can't rush a guy back, that wouldn't be fair on him or to the England team. There's time, about two weeks to the first Test match and we'll be in constant communication throughout.
"He knows he is a big part of things and we want him to be there, but if he's not there it will give someone else an opportunity."
The identity of that someone else remains the subject of much debate. Jonny Bairstow is the man in possession having played in Melbourne and Sydney but did not convince in the role with either bat or gloves, although the coaching staff at Yorkshire are convinced that is partly due to the way he has been handled by England.
Jos Buttler has been in the limited-overs role for more than a year now and put in a tidy performance in the Old Trafford ODI with four catches but his performances behind the stumps remain inconsistent.
"Like a lot of guys he is a really talented keeper and a really talented cricketer," Cook said of Buttler. "He's nowhere near the finished article with his keeping but just watch him practise and you will see him put the hard yards in and that progress will keep going in the right way no doubt."
Mick Newell, one of the England selectors, admitted this week that the keeping debate split people into two camps and appeared to suggest that the option of returning to a more pure gloveman, in the James Foster or Chris Read bracket, was not being discounted.
"There are two camps of keeper," Newell said. "There is the Kieswetter, Buttler, Bairstow group and there is the Foster, Read group, more the old-school wicketkeeper. I watched Foster last week and he was terrific. There will be an interesting debate there.
"What has come out of the winter is a complete rethink with five, six, seven spots up for grabs, which is a bit scary but exciting at the same time."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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