The Ashes 2013-14 November 18, 2013

Recovering Prior a chance to play


Matt Prior has provided a boost for the England team by coming through a long training session unscathed a few days ahead of the first Ashes Test.

Prior has been an injury doubt for the game, starting at the Gabba on Thursday, after sustaining a tear to the left calf muscle during the tour match against Australia A in Hobart. But by batting for about an hour against a variety of bowlers in the nets and then taking some catching practice, Prior provided a strong hint that he will be available for selection.

Prior was one of only four members of the England squad - Jonny Bairstow, Graeme Swann and Alastair Cook were the others - to attend a voluntary net session at the Gabba on Monday. Despite strapping to his left calf, injured while batting and later diagnosed as a grade 1 tear, he played with confidence in the nets and, perhaps keen to make a point to the watching Andy Flower, darted the first few yards of imaginary quick singles on several occasions without any sign of discomfort. Prior ended the session by giving photographers a thumbs up and saying "I'm fine" before having some catching practice on the outfield.

While it was a hugely encouraging session for Prior, it may still prove a little premature to conclude that he will definitely play in Brisbane. It has yet to be seen how he responds to the session and, with it having been only 10 days since he sustained the injury, the selectors may be uneasy to risk him at the start of such an important series for fear of aggravating the problem. Bairstow, batting fluently in an adjacent net, stands by.

Some might argue that Bairstow has a strong case for inclusion anyway. He averaged 29 with the bat in the Ashes in England compared to Prior's 19 and kept nicely in the second innings of England's victory in the warm-up game in Sydney.

But in such a pivotal game, England want their most experienced players. Prior, the team vice-captain and a veteran of 72 Tests including the series here in 2010-11, remains, despite his relative dip in form, a key figure with the bat and in the field. His astute use of the DRS might prove a factor, too. If England are satisfied that Prior is 100% fit, there will be no selection dilemma: he will play.

The wicketkeeping selection is one of two issues the selectors have yet to resolve ahead of the first Test. While Michael Carberry, leaving the ball with the precision required to prosper in Australia, has secured the opening berth and forced Joe Root back to the No. 6 position for a while, there is still doubt as to the identity of the third seamer.

While there are, on the face of it, three candidates - Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin - it seems most unlikely that Finn will be included. While his wicket-taking record remains admirable, his propensity to leak runs is incompatible with England's strategy and renders him needing to improve his control if he is to break back into the side.

Tremlett, by contrast, may have lacked potency - he endured a modest county season and has taken just the one wicket in two games on this trip so far - but remains a reliable man to perform the holding required to balance England's attack. With his height, his skill and his control, he can be relied upon to maintain the pressure built up by James Anderson and Stuart Broad and should enjoy the extra bounce in the Australian wickets.

Those whose memories of Tremlett are limited to Test cricket will wonder what the fuss is about: he has invariably looked a fine quality performer at this level and, on the tour of 2010-11, was arguably England's most impressive bowler.

The intervening months have not all been kind, though. Tremlett has suffered a couple of serious injuries and, though he has worked hard to recover his strength and match fitness, there is little evidence to suggest he has recovered the nip that made him such a dangerous bowler.

Boyd Rankin may yet warrant selection as a compromise selection. While his form on the tour so far has been patchy, he has more pace than Tremlett and more control than Finn. He has never bowled in Australia prior to this trip and is taking a while to find the correct length, but Ed Cowan, the Australian left-hander, reckoned one of his spells in the latest tour game "screamed 'Test bowler" and he might prove a more aggressive choice. But, in a side who tend to play 'safety first' cricket, Tremlett remains the most likely selection.

Whatever happens, England's struggle to settle on a third seamer underlines the value of Tim Bresnan. While the unglamorous holding role performed so often by Bresnan rarely wins many headlines, the difficulty England have had finding a replacement for him has provided a reminder of his value. He is now bowling at full pace in the nets and, all being well, will make his return in the two-day game at Alice Springs that comes before the second Test in Adelaide. Tremlett or Rankin will have to bowl impressively in Brisbane if they are to deny him a quick return to the side.

While the rest of the squad took the time to enjoy the local attractions or a round of golf, Cook could have been forgiven for wishing he had joined them. He enjoyed a tough net session, being beaten several times by the net bowlers and losing his off stump to a beauty from Swann that lured him down the pitch and turned past his outside edge.

Generally, however, England are in good shape, and the promising performance of Prior will have provided further reassurance that, days before the serious business begins, they remain on track.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on November 20, 2013, 1:23 GMT

    Ok, so we (England) might look in pretty good shape, but let's not forget we never start a test series well, especially overseas. Trent bridge was the first time we've WON the first test of a series for quite a while, and then only just. Let's hope this time we get it right first test!

  • Bonehead_maz on November 20, 2013, 0:41 GMT

    Whoever the 3rd seamer is, he'd better be good! In Test Matches at Gabba - Anderson Avg 103 SR 160 - Broad Avg AVG 90 SR 240 ! - Swann AVG 80.5 SR 153

  • CodandChips on November 19, 2013, 19:31 GMT

    I understand arguments that Rankin wants to play cricket for England in order to play test cricket. That is not necessarily something I agree with. But what I am probably alone in thinking that Morgan's England ambitions at the moment aren't necessarily connected to test cricket. After all he does forfeit playing championship cricket to play IPL, doesn't he?

  • Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on November 19, 2013, 13:16 GMT

    Posted by 122notoutWestByfleet1996 on (November 19, 2013, 8:51 GMT), you make a terrible point, switching countries as an adult and moving to your homeland as a baby are light years apart. In saying that I do agree that if you qualify you can play. I am a dual citizen and a proud one of both my countries. The reason I think it is a shame that Irish players are taken by England is that Ireland should have test status.

  • JG2704 on November 19, 2013, 10:37 GMT

    @Nutcutlet - You say about Eng's decision not playing Tremlett in the Oval test now being apparent. Yes I agree , but for different reasons. He was not played at the Oval test because he was not ready/good enough. Obviously it could be that he's been holding back for practically every match in 2013 including the 2 warm up matches and the plan is to give Aus the shock of their lives when they're expecting an out of condition bowler with little threat and it turns out he's been kidding us all along. If that's the case then it's an absolute masterstroke and I will 100% say brilliant mind games but it would seem extremely far fetched as they surely could not have left out Boyd or Finn if either were totally on fire in the 1st 2 games and then that plan goes out the window. I just wonder how you see Tremlett as a safe option though?

  • JG2704 on November 19, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    @Mipixx on (November 19, 2013, 1:10 GMT) I think there are degrees of tear

    @dunger.bob on (November 19, 2013, 2:24 GMT) Re

    "As for the 3rd seamer, I have no interest. One ten foot robot is much like any other ten foot robot. Go for who-ever you like, they're all essentially the same aren't they"

    I'd say no. One is taking more wickets than the other 2 but leaking more runs , One is more economical but not taking wickets and the other is in between

    @Milhouse79 on (November 19, 2013, 9:18 GMT) Agree re 1 bad series ... but it is 2 bad series in a row and his glovework wasn't great in 2013 either. Add to the fact that he has only just recovered (if he has fully recovered) ..

  • JG2704 on November 19, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    @Paul Mcallister - I do have sympathy re Ireland's plight but the fact is that these guys chose to play for England so surely it's more the player not caring about Ireland's plight... As it is , they're some way from becoming a test nation - I think someone said that if they get the grounds in place it may be 2020 when they get test status. If true Boyd will be 36 and will have missed the boat. Personally - re Morgan - I think if Eng weren't in for him he'd probably choose IPL and other big T20 bashes over playing for Ireland. Just one thing - looking at the Ireland line up (bowlers) and you have Johnston,Cusack,Murtagh and Sorenson - none of who were born in Ireland. Not sure what the history is but I'm sure their birthplace would be highlighted had they been playing for England and we won't even go there re the Irish/English mid 90s football team

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on November 19, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    @landl47 (post on November 19, 2013, 5:48 GMT): No doubt at all about Prior being a fantastic team man, and personally as I said below, think he will play and want him to - and really hope he gets his form back. Burning image of him during both the NZ tours and the last Ashes, however, while in the field and throughout spells when the bowling went awry, was his trademark stance behind the stumps with a glove over the face and Cook nowhere in frame. That's where I was coming from. I realise the cameras can't be everywhere and trained on one guy for an entire session, so based on your fantastic comments (thanks by the way) - I'll lay it to rest there.

  • Camberwellcarrot1979 on November 19, 2013, 9:18 GMT

    @dunger.bob, Prior had a poor series in England but the guy is an excellent keeper with 7 tons and averages 42, which is only bettered by Michael Clarke for the Aussies. He was awesome in NZ earlier this year and battered Aus around last tour down under. One bad series does not make a bad player! I mean, Mitchell Johnson has had about 8 or 9 bad series and he is being hailed as the Aussies saviour!

  • 122notoutWestByfleet1996 on November 19, 2013, 8:51 GMT

    put a sock in it Paul McAllister. Ireland don't have test status. England do. Rankin wanted to play cricket at the highest level. He qualified to play for England. He has now played international cricket and may well be making his test debut in the next few days. If England pick him, it is because he is considered to be one of the 4 best bowlers who are eligible to play for England. If someone is qualified to play for a country, you don't not pick him because you feel sorry for his country of birth and to help them get test status. End of story.

    No one seems to say these things about the various players in other nations who are not "born and raised" (moises henriques, usman Khwaja, Imran Tahir etc). And lets not forget Keplar Wessels who played for 2 countries.

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