Prior prospers under pressure
England were under plenty of pressure at 72 for five under heavy cloud cover at Trent Bridge today. Luckily, that is just the way Matt Prior likes it.
Even after losing Eoin Morgan in a run-out mix-up to make it 98 for six, Prior refused to buckle, and his and England’s reward was an invaluable 102 not out which helped them reach 262 for nine declared and set Pakistan 435 to win the first npower Test.
Two wickets in three balls from Stuart Broad then helped to reduce Pakistan to 15 for three, leaving the tourists with the prospect of merely salvaging some pride on the scheduled penultimate day tomorrow.
Umar Gul’s career-best 65 not out helped them save the follow-on this morning, and he added a burst of three wickets for seven runs as England’s top order folded.
Even with a first-innings lead of 172 already in the bag, Prior was required to prove his worth again with the bat.
England need not have worried, and after hitting seven fours and two sixes from 136 balls he explained: “I went in in a position where the team needed me to get stuck in and get some runs.
“Luckily I was able to do that, and that’s the thing I’m most pleased about today.
“There’s always pressure. International cricket is about pressure, how you respond to it and how you adapt to it.
“I’ve not played a day for England as batsman-keeper not under pressure. I’m very used to it, and actually enjoy it and thrive on it.
“It’s something I embrace rather than turn away from or get nervous about. It probably brings the best out of me. I’m very determined, and want to play for England as long as possible.”
Prior, dropped from the limited-overs teams this year in favour of Craig Kieswetter, surely cannot have any worries about his Test place for the foreseeable future.
A batsman capable of making hundreds from number seven is a priceless commodity, especially when conditions are tough.
“It was tricky. When the cloud was over, it was swinging and seaming quite a bit,” Prior added.
“By the time I went in the guys had taken a lot of the shine off the ball, so it was far easier. But watching earlier on, it looked very hard work.”
Prior was indebted to a clutch of tailend partners, none more so than number 11 Steve Finn, who remained unbeaten for 50 minutes to help him move from 63 to three figures.
The senior partner knew from recent experience, though, that Finn was capable of frustrating Pakistan.
“I had a huge amount of confidence, because we’ve just played a county game against each other at Uxbridge where I had to watch him get a 35-ball nought not out when they were eight down - and that was thoroughly annoying.”
Finn’s Middlesex hung on for a draw against Prior’s Sussex in that match.
He continued: “As he walked to the wicket today, I said something along the lines of, ‘Same again please, mate’.
“He did such a fantastic job, not only in the way he played but what he contributed to the partnership in between overs. He did all I could have expected of him, and more.”
The same could be said of Broad and James Anderson when England took the ball tonight.
Prior said: “The way the guys responded when we took the ball at the end for that 20 minutes there summed up the day for us, and sums up this team. It puts us in a very strong position.”
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis, having seen his team recover once already from going 1-0 down this summer - to Australia - warns they will not surrender - and are capable of responding in the remainder of the series.
“It seems very, very hard from here on,” he conceded. “But we won against Australia [at Headingley, to level a two-Test series].
“We are a very fine side, and I’ve got no doubt that they can make a comeback.”
Waqar, who also had high praise for “top-drawer” Prior, must know things could already be very different if either of Younus Khan or Mohammad Yousuf were available in the middle order.
But after the fall-out from Pakistan’s miserable winter in Australia, both still appear unavailable.
“One (Yousuf) is retired - we can’t bring someone back who is retired - and the other (Younus) has serious issues with the cricket board,” he said.