England counting on Matt Prior experience as Test series gets underway

 

England have been careful to ensure Alastair Cook is surrounded by experience as well as new blood for the first Investec Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's.

Matt Prior perhaps owes his recall to that intent, back as wicketkeeper-batsman and senior player - if not vice-captain - after being dropped during England's Ashes whitewash last winter.

At 32, Prior is preferred to the fast-tracking of Jos Buttler's Test career - and Cook appears reassured to have such a familiar presence alongside him at a time when England seem set, for the second successive Test, to introduce three debutants.

Asked why Prior got the nod ahead of 23-year-old Buttler, Cook said: "For his long-term record as an England cricketer.

"I think he's played almost 80 games - that's a wealth of experience in a side which is changing."

England have satisfied themselves Prior is fit after the Achilles injury which severely curtailed the start of his summer, but have made the opposite call on the readiness of emerging all-rounder Ben Stokes - who broke his wrist three months ago and has also only just returned to first-class cricket.

Cook added of Prior: "He's a proven international - whereas Ben Stokes isn't quite there yet, in our eyes anyway.

"Matt is a senior guy who knows his game.

"We've been in constant communication over his fitness to make sure he's 100 per cent right, and he is.

"He should be very proud of his record. It's outstanding, and he has a lot more to offer. We should support that."

Others have yet to prove themselves, and Cook acknowledges no easy task faces prospective debutants Sam Robson - set to open the batting alongside his captain - Moeen Ali and Chris Jordan.

"It's a step up in standard from county cricket, and it's a different game," he said.

"I was talking to Ian Bell about it the other day, and he said he didn't really feel comfortable until he'd played 40 games.

"I think that can lead to a bit of inconsistency at the start, and a lot of the senior guys have had their ups and downs until they've got to where they are now."

That does not preclude a successful start, as Cook knows from his own experience and that of Prior - both made centuries on debut.

"There are also a number of guys who've had amazing starts to their careers, with hundreds and 'five-fors' on debuts," he said.

"Sometimes when you go into the unknown, the opposition don't know anything about you."

For Liam Plunkett, it is a possible new beginning that is in the offing - if he is chosen for his 10th Test, seven years after his last.

The seam bowler has been a dramatically resurgent force since his move from Durham to Yorkshire at the start of last summer.

"He just needed something to spark him," said Cook.

"When you've been at a county so long, sometimes people just see what you can't do rather than what you can do."

PA

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