England lose despite Prior heroics

PA Sport
Matt Prior's 73 gave England real hope, but they fell just short against South Africa
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Matt Prior's 73 gave England real hope, but they fell just short against South Africa

Matt Prior's thrilling last-ditch bid to save the Investec series, and England's world number one status, ended in a 51-run defeat against South Africa at Lord's.

Prior, who made 73, produced the most exhilarating of three England 50s but, even after his reprieve on 67 when he was called back from almost the pavilion steps after holing out off a Morne Morkel no-ball, he could not get the hosts over the line.

It was nonetheless not until he was ninth out, caught at first slip off Vernon Philander, five for 30, with the second new ball, that England were finally done - bowled out for 294, when last man Steven Finn went to the very next delivery, in pursuit of an improbable 346.

Prior, Jonathan Trott, who compiled 63, and Jonny Bairstow, who clubbed 54, - following up his first-innings 95 and playing here only because of Kevin Pietersen's omission - kept England hopes alive of pulling off a ground and team record fourth-innings chase.

It seemed all realistic chance had gone with the mid-afternoon elimination of fifth-wicket pair Trott and Bairstow. But Prior, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann would not go quietly. The wicketkeeper-batsman, England's top runscorer from number seven in this three-match series, dug in against his free-flowing instincts in the early stages of his 107-ball 50.

But he upped the ante expertly, with the tail - and as long as he remained, so too did English hope. Bairstow, and then Trott, had gone in the space of nine overs for the addition of only 12 runs - and at 146 for six, England seemed sure to fall well short.

But that was reckoning without Broad and Prior, who responded with a stand of 62 until the former went just before tea. Broad strode out with licence to attack, and did so with some adventurous strokeplay - including a six pulled over square-leg off South Africa's pace spearhead Dale Steyn.

When he mis-hooked a Jacques Kallis bouncer down to long-leg, where Hashim Amla set himself to complete a low catch, it seemed England were surely once and for all running out of batsmen.

Prior and Swann would not hear of that suggestion, though, launching a calculated yet frenetic assault before the second new ball - which brought 60 runs in seven overs, in their partnership of 74.

Sweeps and reverse-sweeps came thick and fast off Imran Tahir, and Swann also dispatched the leg-spinner over wide long-on for six, before failing to make his ground at the non-striker's end after being called through for a sharp single to short third-man. And, once Prior had departed, all English hope was lost.

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