Prior century sets England on course for winning start

WICKETKEEPER Matt Prior expects England to take a 1-0 series lead against India today after his heroic century laid the foundations for the hosts to clinch the first Test at Lord’s.

Prior and Stuart Broad rescued an innings that had been ravaged by seamer Ishant Sharma with unbeaten scores of 103 and 74 respectively before captain Andrew Strauss declared on 269-6.

That set India a record victory target of 458 and they reached the close of play last night on 80-1, but Prior is confident England will be ruthless in killing off a team who occupy the No1 Test spot that they covet.

“We have put ourselves in a good position,” he said. “If we just stick to what we do well we have got a very good bowling attack and I am sure we will be in a good place this time tomorrow. I’m happy we are in such a good position to win the match.”

Strauss delayed the declaration until Prior had completed his sixth Test century – a fine reward for a diligent afternoon that began as an exercise in damage limitation.

“It was a huge moment and I’m delighted to get there,” he added. “I have to say I couldn’t have done it without Broady. The way he took the attack to the Indian bowlers was phenomenal. At one stage it was just to make sure we didn’t get bowled out. I was just playing it by ear and trying to calm everything down.”

India’s task has been made even tougher by injury problems that have restricted the contributions of Zaheer Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir.

Khan, the spearhead of their attack who strained a hamstring on Thursday, did not bowl yesterday, while iconic batsman Tendulkar has endured a viral infection and opener Gambhir suffered severe bruising when a Prior slog-sweep zeroed in on his elbow. Both Tendulkar and Gambhir will bat today, but lower down the order than usual.

The day had started so well for the tourists, Alastair Cook removed for just one run before Sharma’s four-wicket haul accounted for Kevin Pietersen (1), Ian Bell (0), Jonathan Trott (22) and Eoin Morgan (19) – leaving England floundering on 107-6.

Morgan had in fact helped start the fightback with a 35-run partnership with Prior, but it was when Broad – England’s bowling hero just 24 hours earlier – came to the crease that the resistance calcified.

Broad then tormented India with the ball, removing Abhinav Mukund for 12 before Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman guided them to stumps without further damage.