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Chastened Prior looks to rebuild career and image

Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper whose dramatic fall from grace cost him his place for the tour of New Zealand, has spoken of his difficulty in coming to terms with the "character assassinations" from sections of the media and even the public.

Prior was jettisoned in favour of Tim Ambrose, his colleague at Sussex, following a tumultuous first year in international cricket. His hundred on debut against West Indies in May prompted comparisons with Alec Stewart [his long-time campaigner and manager], but a number of costly mistakes behind the stumps - in particular during England's tour of Sri Lanka last year - led to his rapid axing. Prior has been hurt by the very personal attacks - some even coming from the public; one woman wrote him a letter in which she said: "I can't let my kids watch cricket any more because of the way you behave."

"I don't like the person I am portrayed as being," he said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. "When I've read the character assassinations, I've phoned my family and asked, 'Is this really me?'"

He hasn't been blameless, however. Last summer, Prior was said to have taunted Sachin Tendulkar by saying "I drive a Porsche, what do you drive?", and he was also said to be involved with upsetting Zaheer Khan's concentration at the crease by littering jelly beans on the pitch.

"Absolute nonsense," Prior said. "During a drinks break, someone inadvertently dropped some jellybeans as Zaheer Khan walked out to bat. He kicked them away and I was faced with an inquisition by the media at the end of play. I said I didn't know what happened, Zaheer said something else, and the next day the Jellybean Affair was everywhere.

"For the rest of the tour, I was public enemy No. 1, sworn at left, right and centre by India's players when I went out to bat, knowing I would be chastised if I reacted."

Prior, who has recently removed the gold earring which perhaps helped forge a less than approachable public figure, insists that he is "not a confrontational bloke, just competitive" but maintains there are limits in what is acceptable verbal byplay. "I was called a white dog by one Asian player," he said. "I won't name him. I don't believe in making a fuss about these things, as some do.

"I don't go out to sledge people, but I'll stand my ground if a fast bowler gives me the stare. And increasing a batsman's anxiety with some mild banter has been part of the game for years.

"Nobody in the England camp has shut the door on me," he said. "And quite a few say they believe I can make it back one day. I just want to be a match-winner for England - and liked as a person."