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Cook absence creates opportunities

Alastair Cook's absence through injury from England's opening tour match is hardly Plan A for their Ashes campaign.

The sore backs which have put paid to captain and opening batsman Cook's first sighters in Perth and contributed to lynchpin seamer Stuart Broad missing his initial reconnaissance, too, do nonetheless throw up decidedly handy opportunities for others.

Quite apart from Matt Prior's chance to show what he can do as captain from behind the stumps, circumstances have conspired to allow England - who have also seen Monty Panesar laid low by a stomach upset - to assess an extra bowler and deploy Michael Carberry at the top of the order alongside Joe Root.

In a three-day match against a Western Australia Chairman's XI starting on Halloween, in the small hours UK time, England are prepared to unleash all three of their tall fast bowlers at a venue which is traditionally home to the world's bounciest pitches.

Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and the uncapped Boyd Rankin will all get a chance on a surface ideally suited to their talents.

Concerns about Cook's well-being should not persist either, according to Prior.

"Him missing this game is purely precautionary, so I'd be very surprised if he doesn't play the next one," said the wicketkeeper.

Prior reported no quarter given as batsmen and bowlers alike press their claims for inclusion in a series which could rewrite cricket history as England bid for a fourth successive Ashes victory.

"Nets have been good fun at the moment with the big guys steaming in, all playing for their place - the batters have been hopping around a little bit," he said.

"It's great to have competition in a team and in a squad - I think that's very healthy.

"It's not just in the bowlers - it's batters, all-rounders, throughout the team. There's a huge amount of competition.

"Everybody's pushing each other very hard, and that gets the best out of the final XI chosen."

Prior is heartened to be leading a team, notwithstanding the presence of two prospective Test newcomers in number six aspirants Ben Stokes and Gary Ballance, that has a wealth of experience - specifically in these conditions, after England's success in Australia three years ago.

"We've got a lot of our squad who know about playing cricket in Australia, and winning in Australia - which is a huge thing and a great confidence boost," he said.

"Immediately we go into our first net session and batters with experience of batting on wickets with more bounce are feeding back to the younger players.

"[For the] bowlers, [it's] areas you need to change, types of deliveries you need to bowl on Australian wickets - all this information is immediately being filtered down.

"You don't need to take the first week, 10 days, two weeks getting into it and finding these things out.

"We know what we need to do; we know how we best prepare for that first Test match, and we can get straight into our work.

"It cuts that time frame down massively, and we can get straight into it. It's a massive benefit."

England XI to face a Western Australia Chairman's XI: Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Matt Prior, Boyd Rankin, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, James Anderson.

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