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March 7, 2009
He won't score many easier Test centuries than his career-best 131 not out, during which he added 218 for the fifth wicket with Paul Collingwood. For the majority of his innings he faced the combined threat of Ryan Hinds, Brendan Nash and Chris Gayle, but importantly he made sure he cashed in, and celebrated by rocking the bat in his arms. His promotion to No. 6 could be the route England will need to take in the future and Prior certainly has the ability to cope with the role. His hundred also capped off a special couple of weeks.
"I'm not going to lie, it's been pretty amazing," he said. "Any father knows that the birth of your first child is fantastic and it was a great feeling. I was really happy that I was able to go back for that week and spend it with my family. But coming back here I had to get into the groove pretty quickly and get on with the job so it's very satisfying."
Prior's decision to fly home is something that will happen more and more in the modern world. Not all players will be able to walk straight back into the side, although on this occasion Prior's return was as swift as his departure. "It wasn't a decision I took lightly by any means," he said. "I spent a lot of time thinking it over and speaking to people who I thought were the right ones to speak to.
"My family had a say, but also my team-mates and I was hugely backed by all of them and most of them were telling me to go home. When you are backed by your team-mates it makes it a lot easier. Coming back you have to perform and thankfully that's what I did."
Although much of his hundred was made against second-string bowling, it was the early part of his knock that was most impressive. West Indies, for the one period in the opening two days of this game, found a little spark after the double dismissal of Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah. One more wicket and they may have had a sniff at a fairly long tail, but Prior began with a string of boundaries and Chris Gayle immediately retreated into the defensive mode that characterised the majority of West Indies' display in the field.
"I think they are obviously playing for a draw, the way they bowled this afternoon and the fields they had was all very defensive," Prior said. "But you know when you play for the draw it can come back and bite you if you become negative and start hanging on for the game."
England have been trying to solve their No. 6 problem for a long while. Should it be a specialist batsman - Ian Bell has found it his most profitable position - or should it be someone who can contribute in another area? They are so desperate to have a true allrounder that Flintoff has been persisted with in the top order even though he has not scored a Test century since 2005. Prior now has a Test average of 47.31 (second only to Kevin Pietersen in this team) and is a proper batsman with classy shots, especially through the off side where he is as good as anyone in the team.
When Prior was dropped following the Sri Lanka series in late 2007 it wasn't because of a lack of runs - if anything he looked the most confident of England's players against Muttiah Muralitharan - but a spate of dropped catches that drove the bowlers, especially Ryan Sidebottom, to distraction. If his keeping can continue to improve there isn't a better option in the country, despite the close attention of Tim Ambrose.
England should know that an allrounder doesn't have to be the batsman-bowler variety. Alec Stewart, who now mentors Prior, allowed England to field a balanced team by batting at six and therefore relieving the pressure on whoever came in below him. For a while that was Flintoff and No. 7 should be the position he occupies on his next return from injury. Flintoff's Test average has never risen above 33; Prior's has never dipped below 38 (albeit after just 16 matches) and it makes sense to switch their positions.
That is for the future, but the present is a familiar scenario. England are again in a position where all their runs will count for nothing unless they can chisel 20 West Indian wickets. Will it be third time lucky? They have a five-man attack on this occasion and the early signs are that they will need them all.
"Swanny has been a big part of this trip so far and it was great to see Monty getting a wicket and seeing that bounce again," Prior said. "I think they will play a huge role, but reverse swing will also be key." Prior already has a great story to tell his new son and an England victory here would cap it off perfectly, but taking those wickets will be far from child's play.
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