Matt Prior is unequivocally reassured to have Alastair Cook – destined, he says, to be “probably the greatest England cricketer” – in charge for the critical third Ashes Test at the WACA.
Cook will win his 100th Test cap tomorrow, as will his opposite number Michael Clarke, in a match that the two chief protagonists could hardly be approaching in more contrasting circumstances.
England have been hammered in the first two Tests and are in danger of losing the Ashes outright before Christmas.Clarke has made centuries in both risbane and Adelaide and, at both venues, Mitchell Johnson’s fast bowling has embarrassed England’s batsmen.
Wicketkeeper Prior, however, has seen enough of Cook – as batsman and captain – to know he and his team-mates could not have a better man to lead them out of this tightest of corners.
At a ground where England have won just one Test, and that 35 years ago, they must withstand the might of Johnson in conditions tailor-made for his talents. They will be looking to Cook to set an example and Prior has no doubts his captain is made of the right stuff.
“I don’t know the records he is about to break but there are going to be a few of them,” he said of the 28-year-old opener who is already England’s most prolific all-time centurion.
“He will be probably the greatest England cricketer. In my mind, there is no doubt about that and, from a leader point of view, there is no other man I’d want taking us on to the field.”
Prior does not underestimate the challenge facing England, after their hapless start to this high-profile series, but he is convinced they can fight back.
“For an England cricketer, it doesn’t get any harder – two down in an Ashes series coming to Perth,” he admitted. “But, if we do come out and force a result here, how exciting would that be. . . in the England dressing room, at the end of this game, getting a result in Perth to get back into this series?
“We have to find ways of putting pressure back on the Aussie bowlers,and that’s the way I hope we’ll play. We have to find a way of dealing with it a lot better than we have done, and come back and throw a few of our own punches.”
Prior is not impressed, either, by Australia bowling coach Craig McDermott’s prediction that Johnson will be sending the ball down even faster than the 90mph-plus he has already been operating at, on the world’s bounciest playing surface.
“A coach sitting there saying ‘he’s going to bowl this’. . . well, great, well done,” he shrugged. “It doesn’t interest us at all. We’ll wait and see what happens. He could lose complete rhythm and not bowl at all, who knows?”
If Johnson, infamously inconsistent at times, does stay at the top of his form, there is no obvious reason why England will suddenly start coping better against him. But Prior is looking forward to testing himself again.
“You have to enjoy this challenge – being under pressure – because, if you don’t, you’re not going to survive,” he said.
“If we can turn this around, it will be phenomenal – and that’s what we have to keep looking at.”