Part of England’s selection puzzle for the crucial fourth Test was resolved yesterday by the birth of a baby 5,000 miles away. In the small hours, the team’s wicketkeeper Matthew Prior was told that he had become a father for the first time and hours later flew home to be with his wife Emily and their son. Nobody quite so young as Master Prior can have had such an influence on the naming of a Test team and the possible course of a series. His dad’s absence means that Tim Ambrose will come into the side for the match which starts at the Kensington Oval on Thursday.
But whereas Prior Snr would have been able to bat at six, enabling England to play the five bowlers they seem to need, that may be a position too high for Ambrose. Thus, it may be that England will feel they have to play six batsmen and only four specialist bowlers. Doubtless, none of this will bother the five-day old chap on Thursday morning but for the selectors, Team Andrew (Messrs Strauss, the captain, and Flower, the assistant coach), it makes life rather more difficult. England, who must to have a chance of winning the series, failed to bowl out the West Indies in 128 overs in the dramatic Antigua Test last week.
Their necessary strategy therefore seemed self-evident. All that has changed. Prior had already received permission to miss the fifth Test in Trinidad, but that was before Flintoff injured his right hip and opened up the last position in the order usually occupied by an authentic batsman.
Ambrose, then first choice, batted at No 6 once last summer, at Headingley, against South Africa but he was not a success. Indeed, his lack of runs throughout the season led to Prior’s recall this winter, and perhaps it was always in the back of the selectors’ minds that they might be able to promote Prior to six, even with Flintoff in the team. It is the intention to recall Prior for the fifth Test, but if Ambrose helps England to win in Bridgetown that may not be straightforward. Paternity leave rights may be the same as in the real world, going back to your old job is not necessarily so.
As Ambrose said: “Once you’ve had a taste and been left you’re always keen to get back in. You’re always working on things you felt you needed to improve when you were there and that’s what I’ve been doing in the time I’ve had out. At my age and my stage of career I think there is unfinished business and I’d like to push on with it.”
Oh, and congratulations Matt and Emily.
Births have been a regular feature of England tours in recent years. Indeed, every tour should have one and probably will. In 2002, Nasser Hussain took his wife and elder son to Australia so he would neither have to go home nor miss the birth of his second son. Strauss left a tour of Pakistan in late 2005 to be at the birth of his and his wife’s first baby. England lost by an innings. In India a year later, Flintoff decided to stay on tour after he was made captain.
Despite the state of the series, nobody suggested it was unusual for Prior to go home yesterday – though there are some curmudgeons who thought it odd to be departing now his son had been born. Hugh Morris, the England team managing director, said: “Matt knows this is an important part of the tour but it is their first baby and a special time. There is a paternity leave clause in the players’ contract and he is perfectly within his rights to go.”
In the light of this birth the No 6 berth seems now to be between Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara, who is only a replacement member of the squad. Bell made a typically fluent 72 in England’s second innings 142 for 2 on the second day against the President’s XI to follow Bopara’s century in the first innings. Earlier the pair seemed to be involved in some kind of bowling shoot-out. Bopara was slightly less poor than Bell and to imagine them posing any kind of threat in a Test match is laughable. Master Prior may have more idea.
*Giles Clarke, who has come under fire over the Allen Stanford affair, has been officially re-elected as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board for a further two years.
Final day of two; close, BCA President’s XI won toss
England – First Innings 351 for 8 dec (R S Bopara 124no, T R Ambrose 74, A J Strauss 66; K A Stoute 4-67).
BCA President’s XI – First Innings
(Overnight: 49 for 4)
*S S J Brooks c Cook b Sidebottom 69
K A Stoute c Strauss b Khan 56
C Edwards lbw b Panesar 0
J Holder b Khan 50
†R Arthur b Khan 18
B B B Yearwood st Ambrose b A U Rashid 2
J L Carter not out 4
Extras (b6 lb2 nb20) 28
Total (63.4 overs) 245
Fall: 1-18 2-18 3-18 4-49 5-153 6-157 7-170 8-237 9-241.
Did not bat: D Jordan, R A Wiggins.
Bowling: Sidebottom 13-4-19-2; Khan 15-2-79-5; Panesar 10-2-41-1; A U Rashid 16.4-0-63-2; Bopara 5-0-27-0; Bell 2-0-8-0.
England – Second Innings
A N Cook c Carter b Chase 52
I R Bell b Chase 72
O A Shah not out 16
Extras (w2) 2
Total (for 2, 27.2 overs) 142
Fall: 1-101 2-142.
Did not bat: *A J Strauss, M J Prior, R S Bopara, †T R Ambrose, A U Rashid, M S Panesar, A Khan, R J Sidebottom.
Bowling: Jordan 5-1-9-0; C Edwards 5-0-34-0; Yearwood 7-0-39-0; Holder 4-1-22-0; Chase 4.2-0-21-2; Carter 2-0-17-0.
Umpires: V Bullen and A L Farrell.