If KP does call it quits, no man is bigger than the team, says Prior

 

Headingley

While Matt Prior's innings yesterday morning will for ever be overshadowed by Kevin Pietersen's Saturday afternoon masterclass it was, in its own right, just as important to England's prospects of recapturing their killer instinct.

His bustling, selfless knock of 68 from 89 balls summed up why the Sussex wicketkeeper-batsman has firmly established himself as such a highly valued member of the England dressing room.

When Pietersen departed to the second ball of Morne Morkel's opening over of the day, much to the collective disappointment of the Headingley crowd, England's momentum could so easily have juddered to a halt.

But, just as he has done countless times in the past, Prior took personal responsibility for injecting urgency into the innings by running furiously between the wickets and punishing anything loose.

His 21st Test fifty allowed England to forge a small first-innings lead when they could so easily have folded following Pietersen's dismissal for 149 as he scored 48 of England's last 74 runs. It was typical Prior.

While some may gripe at the manner of his dismissal, top-edging a sweep from a delivery bowled into the rough by leg-spinner Imran Tahir for the second time in the series, Prior will argue with some justification that he was putting the team ahead of himself.

While Pietersen happily allowed debutant James Taylor to take the last four balls of Tahir's over before tea on day three, Prior didn't hesitate in scuttling back for a second when he could so easily have jogged his first run to see out the final over of the evening session. But it isn't in his nature to put himself before the interests of the team.

That is his great value and why he is so highly thought of by his team-mates and by the England management.

At the press conference last night, Prior was asked repeatedly about Pietersen's ongoing feud with the ECB and the possibility that he may even make himself unavailable for Test cricket, or be denied a central contract, following his recent decision to retire from one-day international cricket.

Despite all the focus being on his higher-profile team-mate, Prior's responses were considered and honest.

"Kev will do what Kev wants to do and it's up to him to do it," Prior said. "When you watch a bloke bat like that you'd want him in your team. Why wouldn't you? But the very special thing about this England team is that it is a team. There is no one person who has done more than anyone else and that is a very, very strong thing.

"To have 11 blokes pulling in one direction is a very powerful thing. That, by the way, is not me saying Kev has not been part of that 11, he's been a big part of that 11.

"But what I am saying is that while it would be a loss, a huge loss, what is important for this team is that whoever is the bloke who takes his place, all 11 of us need to pull in the same direction.

"That's what makes this England team a good team."

Prior's responses were not forced, because his team ethic is deeply ingrained to an extent that Pietersen may struggle to comprehend, but they did reveal a surprising level of acceptance that England's highest-profile player may yet turn his back on international cricket.

For Prior, forever the team man, it would be a blow which the collective cause could absorb.

"No one knows what Kev is going to do, I don't think Kev knows what he's going to do," he added.

"It has no bearing on the outcome of this Test match or the series. All we can think about is what makes this team brilliant, which is having 11 guys pulling in one direction.

"Kevin is one person and we need to regroup and come back hard to win this Test match."

It was typical Prior.

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