Prior still holds hope after rain frustration
ENGLAND are clinging to the belief they still have a chance of levelling the Investec Test series against South Africa today.
The hosts’ hopes of victory were dealt a telling blow when rain yesterday took out almost 60 overs at Headingley, and left South Africa with ten wickets standing and a lead of 33 runs.
Matt Prior (68) did his considerable best to consolidate the Kevin Pietersen-inspired fightback, but could only carry England into a six-run first-innings lead on 425 all out.
England’s wicketkeeper-batsman described Pietersen as a “freak” talent, who would be a “huge” and “sad” loss should he ever call time on his Test career.
Aside from stating those obvious truths, Prior made it clear he is more concerned with England’s immediate future in Leeds than one which may or may not take place without Pietersen at some stage.
The South Africa-born batsman’s retirement from limited-overs cricket has caused conjecture in some quarters that his Test career may also prove shorter than his 32 years suggest.
“You want him in your team,” Prior said of the man whose outstanding 21st Test century yesterday gave England renewed hope of victory.
“I bet the South Africans wanted him in their team [too], because he’s a great player.
“But I don’t know what he’s going to do. I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do at the moment. We’ll have to wait and see.
“It has no bearing on the outcome of this Test match, or this Test series.
“What’s important for us is that we regroup tomorrow, come in very hard and try to level this series. That’s what I care about.”
Yesterday’s rain did England’s prospects no good. But Prior saw a silver lining in the clouds.
“It’s obviously very frustrating,” he said.
“To get a small lead and put South Africa under pressure, it would have been nice to have had that opportunity to bowl all day at them and pick up a few wickets going into the last day.
“But in a funny way, there probably are now only two possible results – a draw, or an England win.
“For them to know they now have to bat out a day can sometimes be quite tough, from a mental point of view.
“We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to have come very hard tomorrow morning.”
England could make no inroads with the new ball, yet Prior saw some evidence of possible trouble ahead for the tourists.
He said: “Of course, we’re going to need a bit of luck – and a lot of skill. But who knows?
“It was still swinging. The minute the clouds come in here, it starts swinging and nipping around a bit.
“We hope it will be a lovely overcast day all day; it will hoop around, and we’ll pick up ten wickets and whoop and holler and party the night away.”
As for Pietersen, who lasted only two balls this morning and could not add to his overnight 149, there is no arguing about his world class after his batting here.
“He’s taken Dale Steyn, the best bowler in the world, and made him look like a regular bowler,” said Prior.
“It was incredible, the shots he was playing.
“He’s a special talent, and it’s fantastic to have someone like that in that situation.
“You watch a bloke bat like that, and you want him in your team. Of course you do – why wouldn’t you?
“But the very special thing about this England team is it is a team. There is no one person that’s done more than anyone else, and that is a very, very strong thing – to have 11 blokes pulling in the same direction is very powerful.
“Kevin has been a big part of that 11. It would be a huge loss and a sad loss, but the important thing for this team would be that whoever takes his place comes in and all 11 of us are pulling in the same direction.
“That’s what makes this England team a good one.
“All I can say is he’s a freak, an unbelievable batter. To play that innings he did was fantastic.” South Africa seamer Morne Morkel found himself on the end of some of Pietersen’s most brutal punishment – and agrees with Prior about his opponent’s talents.
“You can’t tell me any team in the world would say no to him,” said Morkel.
“The way he played yesterday was just one of those KP innings.
“When he’s in that sort of mood, he’s a very tough guy to bowl to.” South Africa captain Graeme Smith had to bat with the pain of a sore knee yesterday, for which a full diagnosis will be sought after this match.
The tourists’ team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee said their “main concern” is Jacques Kallis’ back spasm. But they are hoping both senior players, and opener Alviro Petersen – who has a hamstring strain – will be fully fit for the final Test at Lord’s.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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