Prior retains positive outlook
England wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior refused to be downhearted after seeing South Africa take the honours on day two of the first Investec Test at the Kia Oval.
Prior was the only batsman to impress for the hosts today, his battling 60 a valuable contribution as Andrew Strauss’ men lost their final seven wickets for 118 to be dismissed for 385.
South Africa built upon the improved work of their bowlers by reaching 86 for one in reply, despite the loss of Alviro Petersen for a duck, and will begin day three with Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla unbeaten on 37 and 47 respectively.
Prior remains confident England can prevail, however, and believes they can reclaim the upper hand by striking early with the ball tomorrow, just as their opponents did this morning.
“We were expecting South Africa to come hard, which they did,” he said.
“But I think it’s very easy to think, ‘Oh, this was South Africa’s day – and we’re not now in a good position’. Actually, it’s a very attritional wicket – quite hard to score runs quickly.
"They've only gone at about two an over so far - and if we come in tomorrow morning and get two or three early wickets we're back in the ascendancy and a very, very strong position in this Test match.
"That's the way we'll look at it. We've got to put pressure on their batters and hope we can get a cluster (of wickets)."
Prior faced an immediate test when he arrived at the crease, with Dale Steyn having removed Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara in quick succession.
Rather than being daunted by the challenge of facing the world’s number-one bowler, the Sussex man revealed he relished the battle.
"He's a world-class performer, we know that. He's not number one in the world for no reason,” said Prior of Steyn.
"But it's a great challenge. You want to challenge yourself against the best in the world.
"When it was going around this morning, those are the times when you have to look at it and say, 'Right, I've got to thrive on this pressure and see if I can get through it’. So in a sick kind of way, it's quite enjoyable really.”
Many had anticipated England ploughing on to a first-innings score in excess of 450 following their relatively untroubled progress on the opening day.
“We ended up with 385, and I think that's a good score on that wicket,” Prior reasoned.
"Yesterday, we probably would have said we wanted to get 400. But the way the wicket changed this morning, 350 is almost a par score.
"A lot will depend on that first session tomorrow. We have the bowlers in the dressing room to do the job for us, and I'm sure we'll come out very hard.”
Morne Morkel, who removed Prior and James Anderson to finish with 4-72, was satisfied with South Africa’s improved performance with the ball.
The paceman also paid tribute to the efforts of fellow pacemen Steyn and Vernon Philander, who set the tone in their opening spells.
“I think it was needed,” said Morkel. “They were sitting pretty good overnight and we knew that the first hour this morning was key for us, to get some early wickets.
“All credit must go to Vernon and Dale; the intensity that they bowled with was fantastic.
“The main thing for us yesterday was we didn’t get the ball to swing as much as we would have liked. This morning we got it to move around a little bit and got the results.”
Asked whether he felt South Africa had ultimately let England get off the hook in scrambling to 385, Morkel added: “I think we will take that.
"There were a couple of small chances here and there with a run out, and if a couple of catches had carried to slip it might have been a different story.
“But with the result we had yesterday, looking at 380 tonight I think we will definitely take that and especially with the way we batted tonight; the way Graeme and Hashim then played was exceptional.”