The Ashes: Minding Monty Panesar is just part of the job for Matt Prior

Vice-captain puts himself forward to offer advice on and off the field

Matt Prior is a man who keeps moving. He doesn't hang around at the crease, he throws himself around behind the stumps and says he likes to keep his distance from the dressing-room chatterbox Graeme Swann.

As he heads off to Australia for the second exhausting instalment of these back-to-back Ashes, his biggest regret is that he doesn't have his bike with him. He has been swept away in the cycling craze – "it's almost getting in the way of the cricket" – but the management won't let him take his wheels on the flight on grounds that is it is too bulky. "I'm going to put bricks in with my golf clubs, just to prove a point," he said last week before jumping on the plane.

The man on the move is keen to emphasise that England will not be resting on their laurels after winning their third Ashes series in a row last summer. There will be no problem for Alastair Cook and vice-captain in keeping the tourists motivated against the arch-enemy. It's normally the fans and anoraks that get carried away with the statistics but this England team love reaching landmarks.

"Four in a row is massive, it's a huge carrot," says Prior of the next target, a feat not achieved since the 19th century. "This team has really responded well to being a part of history in the game. I remember in 2009 we were sat [at Lord's] having a meeting about how it was 75 years since we'd beaten Australia at Lord's, we have to change that. And we did it. Then it was the Ashes away from home, 24 years. It's those stats that really get us going. Four in a row would be the biggest thing in my career."

England's progress may have been slowed a little by the sheer weight of expectation during the summer. "All the talk when Australia turned up here was that if we don't win 5-0 we've had a nightmare, which was ridiculous. It was never going to happen."

It didn't drag them down much, but the players were bemused. "It was very strange," added Prior. "If you look back 10 years ago, if we'd won 3-0 the country would have stopped for a day. But it didn't feel good enough."

Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has described England's cricket as "dour" and their run-rates and over-rates were very slow at times but Prior asserts that it is merely an indication of progress, not the opposite.

"There's one day that really stood out for me, and for other people for the wrong reasons: it was at The Oval, and we went at two [runs] an over," he said. "It was horrendous to watch, even we were there going, 'Oh my god'. But I remember a few years back that, with an England team in that same position, the batters would have carried on playing their shots and we would have been bowled out for a hundred and lost the match. We dug it out and ended up drawing, nearly winning. This team has moved on."

The recent series was closer than the scoreline suggested, but it was very different the last time England went Down Under when they plundered runs at will and won by an innings three times.

This summer the margins were considerably smaller and Prior is well aware that there are improvements to be made. "We know from the summer that we have to improve," he said. "There are certain areas where we're going to have to really step up."

He is all too aware that includes his own performance with the bat, having averaged just 19. "I'll put myself out there, the last series was horrendous. I have hugely important roles and I have to step up and make sure that I perform better than I did."

Prior is upwardly mobile in more ways than one, with the captaincy just a sprained ankle away. There is the impression that while Cook plots his tactics – "It's one of his strengths that you just don't know what he's thinking" – Prior plays the sergeant major role, one of the boys still but urging them to new heights.

So it is instructive that it was also Prior who took Kevin Pietersen to one side to sort out the impasse with the rest of the team over the Andrew Strauss texts to South Africa in 2012, and this time he will act as mentor to his troubled former team-mate at Sussex, Monty Panesar, who will face a barrage of barracking from the crowds. "I honestly think the best place for him is to be in our squad in Australia," he says. "We'll look after everyone. I know Monty well and my door's always open, he knows that."

From Prior the pacemaker to Prior the peacemaker, the keeper batsman of many talents is moving with the times; Australia must be dreading him having a good series.

Keeping up with the referrals

* "Now we get another two after 80 overs. I'm usually relieved when we've lost our two decisions. But it's not a case of 'we've got another couple soon so let's just chuck these away' if we haven't used them."

* "The frustration is when you review a decision and it goes on an umpire's call and it was 51 per cent outside the line but it was clattering into the stumps. Actually you weren't wrong so why do you lose that review? So I think there's a better way of going about it."

* "Generally, we've got a pretty good plan in place: the first thing is to ignore whatever Swanny says, usually go with the opposite."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor