Ashes 2013: Matthew Prior set back by calf injury before first Test

Matthew Prior has been ruled out of England’s final tour game before the Ashes, casting further doubt on his chances of lining up next week for the first Test.

The England wicketkeeper and vice-captain has been diagnosed with a ”low-grade tear” of his left calf and is racing the clock to be fit to take the gloves at the Gabba.

His injury has paved the way for Jonny Bairstow to make his return to the England side for the tour game against a Cricket Australia invitational XI, though the 24-year-old, who was exposed by Australia during this year’s Ashes series, has big shoes to fill.

Prior, who is third on his country’s all-time dismissals list and averages 42 from 72 Tests, is much admired by England’s brains trust for his leadership and dependability as much for his ability behind the stumps and with the bat.

”He’s been a massive part of our success. He’s vice-captain of our team, he’s an important bloke in the dressing room – the way he talks to the guys – not just the stuff he does on the field,” said batsman Ian Bell. ”If he’s fit, he plays, there’s no doubt.”

Prior hurt his calf during the tour game against Australia A last week in Hobart and will spend the next nine days receiving treatment. The visitors are confident the veteran gloveman will be able to play.

”There’s still a bit of time. Matt’s got himself in fantastic condition for this tour and he’ll be very good with his rehab, so we have very faith that he’ll be fully fit for Brisbane, but it gives someone an opportunity in this game,” Bell said.

That someone is Bairstow, who played as a specialist batsman in the first four Tests of the Ashes before being dumped. Bairstow passed 50 just once from seven innings at a modest average of 29 and is yet to play a game this tour.

There are question marks over Bairstow’s ability at international level; former England captain Michael Vaughan, writing for London’s Daily Telegraph, says he should not even be on the tour.

”He has a serious technical issue with his batting that he needs to iron out away from the glare of an Ashes series,” Vaughan wrote in September. ”His backlift is too inconsistent … He is still a young kid with plenty of talent but he has to solve that problem if he is to have a sustained international career.”

Bell hinted Andy Flower had all but settled England’s top six but Bairstow could help his chances of a call-up later in the Ashes with a strong showing this week. ”I don’t know if he can force his way into that just yet, but if he got 100 in this game it’s a great place to be if anyone does lose form,” Bell said.

England are expecting Kevin Pietersen to play on Wednesday. Pietersen has been battling a knee injury that required a cortisone injection on Sunday.

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