Prior hails spirit of settled England side

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The Independent Online

England may be on course to achieve something which has proved beyond them for more than a century - before the decisive Wanderers Test has even begun.

Should they be able to select an unchanged team for the fourth successive Test, it will be the first time that has happened in a whole series of four matches or more since the late 1800s.

The continuity is not accidental, of course - although dependent on collective avoidance of injury.

Wicketkeeper Matt Prior believes a settled team is a big help. But he insists the tight-knit squad as a whole, under captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, have all played their part in a success story which currently extends to a 1-0 lead over South Africa with one match to play.

On the prospect of fielding the same team again on Thursday, he said: "It does play a part. Guys feel comfortable in their roles.

"You go out with the same XI for a few games in a row, and you do have that camaraderie.

"But this whole squad is very, very tight - number one to number 15. The guys in this series who haven't played have worked probably even harder than the guys who have.

"They've been absolutely fantastic. It's a very unrewarding job, and the way they've added a huge amount to the team has shown the kind of environment we have."

Prior himself has contributed two telling half-centuries in front of the stumps, and increasingly reliable glovework behind them.

He reports, though, that he has not been at his best with the bat.

"It's been a weird series for me individually," he said.

"I've managed to get a couple of scores - which has been nice - at important times. To help the team in those situations is always a great feeling.

"But I've not gone into the series feeling in great form with the bat.

"It's as important to come up with those performances when you're maybe not feeling in the best nick. It's no good just scoring runs when you're feeling great; sometimes, you've got to get your 'ugly' runs when the feet maybe aren't moving as well as you'd hope. You've still got to get stuck in.

"I've managed to stick in a couple of times and get those scores when they have been needed."

Prior's fluent batting may be suffering a little because of the twin demands he faces.

He was long perceived by many as a batsman first, and wicketkeeper second.

The suspicion is that his greatest talent is still in the former capacity. But anyone with an agenda against Prior the wicketkeeper has been given no room for manoeuvre by his assured displays of late. For that, Prior makes it clear he has wicketkeeping coach Bruce French - and plenty of graft - to thank.

"I've worked very, very hard on my (wicket)keeping - and I'll continue to do so," he promises.

"I always mention Frenchy. He's been an absolutely fantastic help."