Prior finds touch as England eye unbeaten tour
There hasn't been much wrong with Matt Prior's batting on this tour, it's just that his best work hasn't been required yet. Alastair Cook is in the form of his life, Andrew Strauss is leading by example, Kevin Pietersen was a matchwinner in Adelaide, Jonathan Trott loves batting against Australia and Ian Bell is in career-best touch. Paul Collingwood is the only one in the top six yet to fire.
And so, the man at No. 7 has been almost irrelevant. He hadn't made a half-century on the trip until the tour match against Victoria - he hadn't had to. And while this outing doesn't count towards the Ashes, England are desperate to go through the trip without losing a match, and Prior's unbeaten 102 ensured that record stay intact as a rainy draw was secured against a local attack that proved more threatening than could have been expected.
"It was just nice to get in the middle and have an opportunity to bat for a while, try and build an innings and get through a tricky patch as well," Prior said. "For me personally, it was perfect preparation for next week. I was delighted to get the hundred but more important was the time in the middle and getting back into the rhythm of building an innings.
"If we carry on playing the brand of cricket we have been, there's certainly no reason why we can't go through the tour unbeaten. You go on any tour, you want to be unbeaten, whether it be an Ashes tour or anywhere else. If we could manage to do that, it would be a fantastic feat, but it's something we're certainly targeting."
That approach meant that a game that featured three declarations, as the captains tried to create a result, was reduced to a dull draw after England's top order faltered to be 4 for 55 shortly before lunch. The promotion of Tim Bresnan ahead of Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell notwithstanding, England weren't about to throw away their winning touch.
"Going in to lunch we were adamant we weren't losing this game," Prior said. "Winning is a habit and it's a habit that you want to protect. If we had have lost today, I think we would have been very disappointed people. You can't take for granted being on a good run and you have to sometimes dig in and make sure you continue that run."
One of the main aims England took in to the match was to establish which of their backup fast bowlers will replace the injured Stuart Broad for the third Test in Perth, but Bresnan, Chris Tremlett and Ajmal Shahzad took only one wicket between them. Tremlett remains the favourite to join the Test side, but Prior said it was not fair to compare their work on a slow drop-in pitch at the MCG to the quicker, bouncier surface they would be confronted with at the WACA.
"This was not an easy wicket to get the batsman out," he said. "I don't think any bowler was going to charge in and take a whole load. All three of them bowled beautifully, held up ends, didn't let the batters score at a rate, and all did a very good job on a wicket that wasn't helpful at all. They've all put their hands up."
So has Prior, who batted at No. 4 to give him time at the crease. Should Australia's bowlers find the magic solution to running through England's top order, they'll be met by the sight of an in-form No. 7 striding to the wicket, and their work will be far from done.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo