England captain Alastair Cook admits Matt Prior’s fitness is a “big concern” ahead of the Test series against Sri Lanka, starting on 12 June at Lord’s.
The wicket keeper has been spending time with Sussex in a bid to recover from the Achilles injury that has ruled him out of the ODI series, and Cook fears he will not be able to call on Prior, whose recovery has been slower than anticipated.
The delay has thrown England’s plans up in the air, as Prior now lacks match fitness, particularly after Sussex’s game against Middlesex in the T20 blast was abandoned due to rain.
At 32 and having suffered a dip in form last year, England are bound to already have one eye on his successor behind the stumps, with Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler the leading candidates.
Prior has endured a difficult year, having faced non-stop criticism during the Ashes Down Under, and he was subsequently dropped by the then head coach Andy Flower for the last Two Tests. Yorkshires’ Bairstow filled in then, but Lancashire’s Buttler seems to now be the preferred option after taking seven catches in three matches against Sri Lanka.
It is clear that Cook still sees Prior as first-choice, however, after declaring Buttler, who is just 23, is not “the finished article” and is not yet ready to hold down a spot in the Test side. Cook may have changed that perception, however, after Buttler’s incredible innings in the 7-run defeat to Sri Lanka, which saw the series levelled at 2-2; England took the game right down to the wire, with Buttler scoring 121 before eventually being run out by Lasith Malinga, who again proved the Three Lions’ undoing. The series will now be decided on Tuesday, but regardless of the defeat, Buttler has now proven himself at the highest level, giving his side a chance out of nowhere.
In Tests though, he remains inexperienced, hence Cook’s fears about England’s vulnerability should Prior not recover quickly enough. Prior at least showed promise on his return for Sussex Sharks in the T20 fixture against Glamorgan, hitting 39 as his side slumped to a their five-wicket defeat to Glamorgan. Nonetheless, Cook and head coach Peter Moores are believed to be cautious about rushing Prior back.
Buttler’s performance against Sri Lanka has now eased fears of a crisis in that area, as England desperately seek a wicket-keeper who will perform consistently and add to the middle order throughout the summer.
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