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Upbeat Prior waxes lyrical

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Matt Prior & Steven Davies

Matt Prior, here working on his catching with Steven Davies, enthused: "I just couldn’t wait to get in the nets and get training"

Matt Prior had a spring in his step as he left England training at the WACA today a richer man than when he arrived.

The England wicketkeeper scooped the winnings in the mandatory team sweep on the Melbourne Cup, when French-trained ‘Americain’ came home first in the ‘race that stops a nation’.

England were hard at work right up to off time as they fine-tune their preparations for the first match of their Ashes tour against Western Australia, starting on Friday.

Prior finished his wicketkeeping drills with moments to spare to watch his horse beat hot favourite ‘So You Think’.

His upbeat mood, in the press conference which immediately followed, was no surprise. But his enthusiasm and optimism extend far beyond today’s bit of good fortune, to England’s prospects of retaining the Ashes this winter.

“It’s absolutely brilliant so far. It’s been fantastic,” he said, asked about his first impressions as part of an England team hoping to win the urn Down Under for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

“Having that bit of downtime before coming out here was really good - coming over here, I just couldn’t wait to get in the nets and get training.

“I am just thoroughly enjoying it so far. Obviously it’s going to be a tough tour, but my experience so far has been excellent.”

Maluckyday & Americain

'Americain', ridden by Gerald Mossie, takes the Melbourne Cup ahead of 'Maluckyday', handing Prior victory in the England team sweep

England know they will have to dig deep on an assignment which is sure to test them mentally and physically. But Prior is convinced they will come through.

“The general atmosphere I can see in the squad so far is one of relaxed excitement,” he said. “We are confident, but certainly not complacent or taking this lightly.

“We know the Australian team is a class team, especially in their backyard, so there is a lot of hard work going on.”

On a personal basis, Prior is delighted to hear his team-mates compliment his batsmanship, but knows he cannot afford to let the plaudits go to his head.

He averaged more than 50 from number seven in the summer’s six Tests against Bangladesh and Pakistan, leaving many convinced he might easily be worth his place in the team even without his wicketkeeping skills.

But Prior learned long ago that no wicketkeeper-batsman can start to believe the hype.

By the nature of the role, he is rarely out of the game and always expected to deliver with both bat and gloves. It is an onerous twin task, but one Prior relishes.

“Any time you get compliments from your peers like that is a great moment and obviously makes you feel good,” he said. “But it’s not necessarily anything you can listen to.”

Matt Prior

Prior's runs, and his astute marshalling of the lower order, are expected to be crucial to England's Ashes ambitions in Australia

Prior’s pivotal position is not only one of the most taxing on a cricket field but has been identified as a likely key to the outcome of this winter’s Ashes.

His brief is to drop nothing behind the stumps, and make as many runs as possible - often batting with the tail.

“I’ve got to make sure I score the runs,” he said. “It’s going to be a very important role in that late middle order, and we’re going to have to knuckle down and get some runs this tour.

“I’m thoroughly looking forward to that and the potential responsibility of maybe batting with a few of the guys down the order. That is a challenge in itself and one I really enjoy.”

Prior and England’s first target is victory in the three-day match against Western Australia starting on Friday - to set the tone for what they hope is going to follow.

“Winning is a habit, and the quicker you can get into that habit the better,” he said. “First and foremost, we want to win the game.

“It’s dangerous to go down the line of a warm-up or practice match. It is a first-class game, and we’ll take it very seriously.”

England were true to their word again today, with punishing fielding regimes before two hours in the nets on another very hot morning.

Only Graeme Swann was given any leeway, sensibly keeping his bruised thumb out of danger as he skipped catching practice and bowled just a handful of gentle off-breaks.

There is no suggestion, though, that the bruising he suffered in the nets yesterday is likely to keep him out of Friday’s match.

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