- The Ashes
Prior 'underestimated' vice-captaincy
Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper, has conceded that his role as Test vice-captain may have played a part in a lean Ashes series with the bat after he "underestimated" the demands of the job but it has not doused his enthusiasm to be Alastair Cook's lieutenant.
Prior was officially elevated to the position for England's series in New Zealand earlier this year having taken on the role during the tour of India when Stuart Broad was injured. Initially, Prior's form remained as stellar as ever - including a monumental match-saving hundred in Auckland - but the runs dried up during the home season after he began with a pair against New Zealand at Lord's just days after being named England's Player of the Year.
His average of 19 was his lowest in a series of four or more matches and the fourth lowest of his career. Prior termed the feeling of not contributing significantly with the bat as "horrendous" but now believes he has a better grasp of how he must balance the multiple demands of batsman, wicketkeeper and vice-captain.
"First and foremost I am absolutely loving the role but I have to change a few things to make sure I still get the best out of myself as a player as well," he said. "I underestimated what it meant. I thought I would just carry on doing what I was doing and it would just say VC next to my name on the team sheet."
"I have realised that there is a time for team duties, a time when you have to make sure you get enough time and enough work as an individual, switching on to what you are doing. The last series was horrendous and I want to improve on that."
Prior's senior position means he is part of the leadership team within England's Test side alongside Cook and team director Andy Flower. However, England have begun their Ashes tour with continued speculation over the future of Flower after suggestions emerged during the latter part of the home season that this contest against Australia could be his last in the job.
Before leaving the UK, Cook said he had no reason to believe Flower would depart after the Sydney Test and that the post-season break had given him a chance to refresh after a challenging season.
After The Oval Test in August, Flower would not look further ahead than this return series but it has never been his style to throw too far ahead into future, at least in public. Prior said the team would do everything they could to ensure he is around for considerable time yet although admits he is a hard man to shift.
"Firstly I would be really sad if Andy packed up," Prior said. "He has been hugely pivotal in this team; look at when he took over in 2009 with what happened with Mooresy [Peter Moores] and KP. We certainly would try to persuade him [to stay] but anyone who knows him well enough will realise that once he's made his mind up on something he's not being persuaded.
"Who knows what he is going to do? I hope he stays on but the important thing is we know we have got him for this Ashes series. That's all we have to worry about."
Prior is now focused on being part of securing a piece of history for this generation of England cricketers with a fourth straight Ashes series win which they have not achieved since the 1890s.
"It's a huge carrot," he said. "This team has really responded well to being a part of history, not just scoring runs and winning matches. I remember in 2009 we were having a meeting at Lord's and said it was 75 years since we beat Australia here - we have to change that. Let's change that. We did it. There was India away which was 28 years, or the Ashes first which was 25 years.
"Those stats really get us going and the team enjoys those challenges and making that bit of history. This four in a row would be the biggest thing in my career and I imagine also for the other boys."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo