Speculation grows that Matt Prior will be axed

GREG BUCKLE
Last updated 19:07 25/12/2013
Matt Prior
Getty Images
REST: England wicketkeeper Matt Prior is taking a break for the rest of the domestic season thanks to injuries and a poor run of form.

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England's wicketkeeper Matt Prior gave his back-up gloveman Jonny Bairstow a big hug after the pair completed a catching session at the MCG on Wednesday.

As speculation builds that vice-captain Prior will be dumped for Thursday's fourth Ashes test, his skipper Alastair Cook is emphasising the need to not simply blood young players for the sake of it.

The heartfelt nature of Prior's embrace, however, suggests the 75-test veteran's Ashes series could be over with two matches remaining.

Prior is averaging under 20 with the bat in the series. The 31-year-old made crucial mistakes behind the stumps in the third test in Perth.

Bairstow, 24, has played 12 tests including England's home Ashes series win in August 2013.

Cook says the team's desire to avoid a five-nil humiliation Down Under means this is no time to simply bring in fresh faces.

"It's all well and good saying the future, the future, but you've got to believe those players are ready to play as well," Cook said.

"So there is a bit of a balancing act. But these two games I don't think are the start of that because of where we are, the importance of the games and how many people have come to see us."

England must make at least one change following spinner Graeme Swann's shock retirement on Sunday.

Left-arm slow bowler Monty Panesar is set to play his 50th test and second match of the series.

Swann's seven wickets at 80 meant the 34-year-old was possibly facing the axe for Melbourne anyway.

"His selection would've been talked about but the question is irrelevant now because he was no longer involved by the time we started talking about selection for this game," Cook said.

Pace spearhead Stuart Broad - the England player Aussie fans love to hate - has trained well despite suffering a foot injury in the Perth test.

It's a rare piece of good news for Cook who celebrated his 29th birthday on Christmas Day. Cook says losing the Ashes has forced him to assess his own captaincy skills.

"We'd won against New Zealand, won the Ashes at home and won away in India, which is a great achievement," Cook said.

"But maybe that papered over some of the cracks in my captaincy as well."

Swann's swipe at some international players who "have no idea how far up their own backsides they are" has not helped.

The comments were widely interpreted as an attack on England batsman Kevin Pietersen.

Pietersen says he's been called worse by Aussie crowds in recent weeks, but Swann and Cook both say it's not a case of friendly fire.

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"A phone call to Swannie resassured me very quickly that it wasn't at all about any of the England players," Cook said.

"Losing the Ashes and with Swannie going as well, it has been a different week."

- AAP

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