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George Dobell in Perth
December 11, 2013
Prior banks on England fightback
Had Matt Prior talked through a cigar and worn a Homburg hat, he could hardly have appeared more Churchillian.
Leading the call to arms from England's grim position in the series, Prior did not quite promise to fight Mitchell Johnson and co on the beaches and the landing grounds and in the fields and streets, but the overriding impression was pretty much the same. England have suffered their Dunkirk defeat at Adelaide; now is the time for their 'finest hour' in Perth. Well, Alastair Cook did call the Ashes something of a war.
"This isn't the time for mincing words," Prior said. "It's not the time for 'positive this' and 'positive that.'
"Sometimes you have to look at yourself straight in the mirror and know where you're at as an individual and from a team point of view.
"It's all well and good me sitting here talking and going on about fight and hunger and everything. But the only way we're going to show fight and hunger is out on that cricket pitch. With batsmen getting big hundreds, bowlers taking wickets and fielders diving on every ball. It doesn't matter what other people want to see. That's what we want to see in the dressing room. And that's what we expect. We've got to go and do it."
The form book offers little encouragement for England. Quite the opposite, really. Not only have England been thrashed in the first two Tests of this series, but their record at Perth is awful: they have won there only once in their history - against an Australian side weakened by World Series Cricket - and they have lost all six of their most recent Tests there stretching back over two decades.
Prior knows all this. He knows the form of England's batsman has not been good enough, he knows the fielding has been substandard and he knows that Australia are playing with a confidence that will be hard to repress.
But, in an odd way, he and the rest of the England camp have concluded that the best method of dealing with their predicament is to embrace it and accept that if they can turn the series around from here, it will be the greatest achievement of their careers.
"It doesn't get any harder than this," Prior admitted. "We're two down in an Ashes series coming to Perth.
"It's been a very tough time for this team. Two-nil down is quite obviously not where we want to be. Not just two down but we've not played the sort of cricket we want to play. We haven't won here for however many years.
"But quite frankly that excites me. Records are there to be broken. There is a huge amount of hunger in this dressing room to turn this around.
"We can absolutely, 100 percent, turn this around. When we get to this place we come out fighting. You have no option. You can sit there and sulk, moan, whinge and make excuses but you will just get beaten. You have to get rid of all that and fight."
Prior accepted his own form has been poor - before the second innings in Adelaide, he had not made a 50 in 16 Tests innings and had suffered three ducks in his previous five completed innings - but defended the record of England's bowlers amid calls for changes in Perth.
"It's very hard to criticise our bowlers," he said. "When they've come in fresh to an innings, they've bowled brilliantly. In the first innings in Brisbane, we could have done better, but to bowl Australia out for 295 on a very good wicket was a fantastic result. Then in Adelaide on the first day, we bowled fantastically well.
"The problem is when you're only batting for 50 overs in your first innings, the guys have to strap their boots on again straightaway. They've just done 100 overs and then have to go again. You're not giving them enough opportunity to rest and come back strong.
"You can look at different things from the bowling point of view but the first thing to address is to make sure we bat time and give the guys the opportunity to rest and recover to come in hard again. We know we've got the skill to take 20 wickets.
"It's very fair to say that I've not scored enough runs. You expect to perform at a certain standard and I haven't been doing that. No one hurts more than me. You fight your battles, have your good and bad times but you have to stay positive and keep your belief.
"I've done that. I've got one fifty. It's not turned anything around. I start on nought again going into the first innings. I've got a nice bit of rhythm again and fingers crossed I can use that as a bit of a springboard for the rest of the series.
"It's a strange one because everyone talks about playing for your place, but the only thing I'm interested in is performing for the team. Helping us win or save games. If I'm not doing that, that's what hurts me more. If I'm not the best player to play for England, that's up to the selectors and I can't worry about it."
Prior, at least, is certain to play in Perth. While England have admitted change is inevitable, it seems probable that Tim Bresnan, the seamer, replacing Monty Panesar, the left-arm spinner, will be the only difference in the team beaten in Adelaide. The chances of Panesar ousting Graeme Swann as first-choice spinner are vastly reduced by the contrast in the pair's fielding in the second Test - Swann took an exceptional catch; Panesar was some way below the required standard. While England could go without a specialist spinner at all - Joe Root could provide variation - it seems that, in the heat of Perth and on a pitch offering some bounce, Swann could still have a role to play.
Meanwhile the England management have confirmed they will not be adding any of the England Performance Programme squad to the Test party.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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