Matt Prior will be a huge loss for England

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England's Matt Prior is facing a race to be fit for the First Ashes Test match against Australia in Brisbane.

With just over a week to go before the game starts, Prior is trying to recover from a low grade calf tear which has already seen him ruled out of the final warm up game in Sydney before the test series begins.

Prior, now England's vice-captain, is hugely important to Team England.

His test record speaks for itself. In 72 matches Prior has amassed over 3,800 runs at an average of just over 42. He has scored seven test centuries and 26 fifties. A record he should be proud of. His wicket-keeping has resulted in 207 catches and 13 stumpings. Prior is now third in England's all-time dismissals list behind Alan Knott (250) and Alec Stewart (277).

The biggest compliment you can pay Prior for his wicket-keeping is that you very rarely notice him behind the stumps which is a testament to the very few mistakes he makes.

Prior's potential absence will leave a huge gap in the England side and not just because of his impressive stats. He is one of the leaders in the side, in both the changing room and on the field. His experience is vital to England and he is often consulted on matters by captain Alastair Cook, particularly on the field at important times in a match.

Prior helps out the England bowlers by offering advice about field-placings, conditions and tactics against certain batsmen. He reads situations well and as wicket-keeper he is vital to the side by keeping his colleagues focused on the tasks ahead, particularly when times are tough in the field. He is a constant chatter-box behind the stumps.

In terms of his batting he is capable of changing a game in an instant with a typical high tempo innings that has become the mark of his career. Just when opposition bowlers believe they are about to break through England's batting line-up and make inroads into their tail-end, Prior can take a game away from the opposition in just one session of batting.

He is a joy to watch and very rarely will he be tied down by opposition bowlers. He compliments other batsman in the side who are not as cavalier in their approach.

Prior is very capable of batting higher for England but by batting at number 6 or 7 he can be very dangerous.

His potential replacement for the First Test, Jonny Bairstow, is not proven at international level nor has he been automatic first choice wicket-keeper for his county Yorkshire.

Bairstow has struggled to hold down a batting position in the England side at number 6 and the critics are not convinced he is a Test match player. If Prior is not fit for Brisbane then Bairstow will need to stand up and be counted and use some of the Yorkshire grit that he is noted for.

Critics also point to more competent wicket-keepers who have not made the tour. This is not a new criticism aimed at England selectors though. The likes of James Foster and Chris Read in the past have often been regarded as the best wicket-keepers in England but their opportunities have been limited when England have overlooked them for a better batsmen rather than the best wicket-keeper.

Test match cricket is very demanding and requires a huge amount of concentration particularly for a wicket-keeper.

Bairstow is competent enough behind the stumps but he is no Matt Prior, and this could be a weakness that the Aussies may be able to exploit at crucial times in games. Bairstow's keeping may be better suited to the shorter format of the game where concentration is less demanding.

It is vitally important that every chance is taken and no mistakes are made because as the old saying goes 'catches win matches' and the team that makes the most mistakes will probably lose the series. England need to make a good start in Brisbane.

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The Ashes
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Matt Prior

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