Prior grateful for Australian grace over back injury

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The Independent Online

Matt Prior last night thanked Australia for granting him the few minutes' grace that made the difference between playing in the fourth Test and being forced to miss it.

England's wicketkeeper suffered a back spasm while jogging during a warm-up game of football yesterday morning and, but for Australia agreeing to delay the toss by 10 minutes, Prior would almost certainly have been left off the team sheet because of uncertainty over his fitness.

"I think those extra 10 minutes allowed me to play," said Prior, who ended up top-scoring – albeit with only 37 not out as England were rattled out for 102. "I was obviously very thankful to the Aussies and it was very good of them."

Prior's late problem capped a day of disruption for England, who were not only forced to concede that Andrew Flintoff was not fit enough to play but also found themselves on the street at 5am following a fire alarm in their hotel.

"There have been a number of things you could say were distractions but that is no excuse," Prior said. "We've all played enough cricket and are big enough, old enough and experienced enough to be able to adapt and get on with the job.

"As for the fire alarm I think anyone would be slightly miffed at 5am standing in the rain with no shoes on, but it's not an excuse. It was just a few grumpy people moaning they had been woken up."

Prior admitted to "punching the air" when Andrew Strauss won the toss and chose to bat, believing that he might he able to spend all day recuperating in the changing room. Instead, having taken anti-inflammatory tablets and been given a pain-killing injection "in the butt" he found himself walking out to bat 30 minutes before lunch – and then keeping wicket well before tea.

"I had a back spasm a couple of years ago and I knew from that experience that if I didn't play I would probably be right as rain in 24 hours and then absolutely gutted I hadn't gone through a bit of stress," Prior sais.

"It's not been a good day for us but we can certainly get out of it. The Aussies bowled well and put the ball in the right area often enough. But the guys will hold their hands up and say maybe there were some dismissals we could have avoided. But we've got the bowlers to turn it around and when we get our chance to go in again there will be some very determined batsmen."

Stuart Clark, Australia's leading wicket-taker during the whitewash series of 2006-07 but playing his first match of this campaign, was straight back in the groove yesterday, finishing with 3 for 18 from 10 overs.

"It would have been a distraction for England with all the talk about whether or not Andrew Flintoff was going to play, then the fire alarm and Matt Prior's back problem," said Clark. "And we actually hit one of their coaching staff [Mark Saxby] with the ball doing high catches so it all sort of went in our favour.

"It's a tough job for their captain [Andrew Strauss] – he's got to concentrate on opening the batting as well and all this other stuff is going on which he needs to be involved in and make decisions about. I imagine his thoughts may have been a tad scrambled."

England, meanwhile, stressed that their fast bowler Jimmy Anderson is injury-free, despite appearing to hurt his left leg while sprinting for a single yesterday.

But they have conceded that Flintoff may need another operation on his right knee – though not until after the Ashes series. He remains determined to finish his Test career by playing at The Oval.