Matt Prior backing Ravi Bopara to come good for England in problem No 6 position
England keeper says it's a matter of time before Essex man puts in a 'big performance' in Test arena
Matt Prior is backing Ravi Bopara to put his Oval disappointment behind him as England look to bounce back from their humiliating defeat at the hands of South Africa in the first match of a series that could cost them their No 1 Test ranking.
Bopara played his first Test in almost a year against a rampant South Africa and marked his return with scores of 0 and 22 as England slumped to their first home defeat in more than two years. Prior described the loss as "a wake-up call" and there is little doubt that Bopara will not have been sleeping too soundly after his nightmare return to England colours.
The England wicketkeeper, though, believes that the Essex man, who was handed his fourth recall to the Test side in south London, has the quality to make the No 6 slot his own.
"Ravi is a very talented batter and I think it's only a matter of time before he puts that big performance in in the Test arena," Prior said yesterday. "He has scored three hundreds already so we know he can do it, he knows he can do it. He has just got to go out and show everyone he has what it takes."
Bopara has enjoyed more downs than ups in a Test career that began back in December 2007. During his first five innings as an England player, he registered three ducks – a miserable run that was followed by an equally improbable hat-trick of hundreds against the West Indies at Bridgetown, Lord's and Chester-le-Street.
A disastrous Ashes series in 2009, which exposed Bopara's limitations at No 3, followed before he was recalled again as England romped to a 4-0 series win over India last summer. That win secured their place at the top of the international tree – but that accession appears to have been built on increasingly flimsy foundations.
Andrew Strauss's men have now suffered five defeats in their last nine matches and although the bowlers took the punishment at The Oval – and there will be a clamour for Steve Finn to come in, probably at the expense of Tim Bresnan – the No 6 slot will give Strauss and coach Andy Flower another headache.
Eoin Morgan occupied the spot during England's 3-0 defeat by Pakistan in the UAE and averaged just 13.66. Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow then assumed the role against the West Indies earlier this summer and managed a paltry average of 12.66.
Bopara has hardly got his Test summer off to an auspicious start but Prior believes all the batsmen need to take collective responsibility.
"Some of the batters got out to soft dismissals," Prior said. "When you get a team in the position we had them in [in the first innings] then you have to go on and make a big score. We didn't do that. We have to make sure we minimise the soft dismissals because in international cricket, certainly against a team like South Africa, you get punished for it."
If those batsmen are looking for inspiration they could do worse than watch a rerun of Hashim Amla's 13-hour epic. His 311 not out was one of the most remarkable innings ever witnessed on English soil and laid the foundations for the tourists' win.
"We didn't play well, but on the other hand South Africa played fantastic cricket," Prior acknowledged. "Hashim Amla played the innings of his life. He played brilliantly, his tempo of the innings is something we can take a lot from and learn from. I thought [Jacques] Kallis showed once again he's just a top, top performer." Kallis scored and undefeated 182 before South Africa declared.
Prior looked comfortable in both innings against a rampant South Africa attack that made the pitch look far from the featherbed it appeared as England's bowlers toiled.
Now Prior averages more than 42 after 56 Tests, there could easily be a case for promoting him one place up the order. He, though, insists that he is just looking forward to showing South Africa what England are really capable of when the second Test begins at Headingley next Thursday.
"It's never nice and losing isn't something we're used to," he said. "It hits you pretty hard when you wake up and think it wasn't all just a nightmare, it actually happened.
"It's a strange thing, you have your mourning period and then you dust yourself down and look forward to what's coming up next – and that's obviously meeting up next Monday and getting ourselves to Headingley.
"If we needed a wake-up call, then we certainly got it. We need to hunt South African wickets and get ourselves in the Test match. Personally, the first innings was the perfect opportunity where Swanny and I could have had a tail wag and then in the second innings I was gutted, hugely disappointed not to go on.
"I had a momentary lapse of concentration that punishes you at this level – I know I messed up and I'll take it on the chin. I got 100 runs in the game and feel in good form, in a good rhythm." Bopara will hope to have a similar feeling when hostilities resume in Leeds.
Matt Prior was speaking on behalf of ASDA, which is entering its seventh year of sponsorship of the National Kwik Cricket competition. Visit: www.asda.com/kwikcricket
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