Cow Corner

Bairstow braced for Ashes step up if required as Prior’s deputy

Cow Corner

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The Australian weather means England's preparations have not been perfect but, apart from a calf injury to wicketkeeper Matt Prior, they have not seen much to darken their collective mood.

There is no getting away from the fact that Prior is, however, a key player in this England side and a leader behind the stumps as much as he is a dangerous lower-order batsman.

He has still not given up hope of proving his recovery from a calf injury in time to extend his record of consecutive Test appearances to 58, but he is having to battle extremely hard to ensure his fitness.

Prior suffered the injury while running during the tour game against Australia A in Hobart on November 9 and underwent an intense fitness session on Monday before giving the TV cameras a big thumbs up as he left the nets.

Jonny Bairstow is on standby should Prior fail to prove his fitness for the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane on Thursday, but it would be a real blow for Alastair Cook's tourists should he miss out.

England's last win at the Gabba came in 1986, but it is a very confident side that finds itself embarking upon a second Ashes series in a calendar year - a unique fixture list in the 131 years of such contests.

But despite the team's bullish attitude ahead of the series, Bairstow will be preparing for another huge test of his temperament, and this time his wicketkeeping technique, given what has been a rocky time for him so far in his Test career.

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Make no mistake about it: selection would represent a sudden transformation in Bairstow's fortunes after he was demoted from his middle-order spot in the England batting line-up over the summer.

Over the course of the first two weeks of the tour, Bairstow has seen Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes and Joe Root all selected ahead of him while Michael Carberry has gleefully grabbed the opening spot alongside Cook.

The 24-year-old has fallen well down the pecking order after having played the first four Tests of the last Ashes series from the number six position and it does not seem long ago that he was regarded as an exciting addition to the line-up.

He may have struggled of late and seen his stock dip within the England ranks, but the Yorkshireman could be about to be thrown in the deep end once more in an entirely new role as wicketkeeper for one of the biggest matches of his life.

England are still extremely hopeful that the talismanic Prior can complete a dramatic recovery to take his place behind the stumps at the Gabba, but if he does not make it Bairstow will be ready for the next phase of an already turbulent Test career.

At the age of just 24 he has many years ahead of him, but such is the competition for places in the England squad at present, he will know perhaps more acutely than before that he has to take his chances when they arise.

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By Dan Quarrell

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