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Cook prepares for 100th cap as pressure is made to seem old hat

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Alistair Cook, left, and Michael Clarke with the urn. Picture: PA
Alistair Cook, left, and Michael Clarke with the urn. Picture: PA

The series has seemed a little like a funeral march for England at times, with the procession having now reached Perth and the third Test. It might have seemed suitable for the tourists to give a eulogy when the took to the crease and gaze dolefully upon the urn quite but Matt Prior is not quite ready to pay his respects. Instead he looked positively to the future and his captain, in particular.

Alistair Cook will win his 100th Test cap tomorrow - alongside opposite number, Australia's Michael Clarke - in a match which the two captains could not be approaching in more contrasting circumstances. England would be doing well not to wince as they walk out on to the field given the veritable kicking they endured during the first two Tests, with the urn almost out of reach before Christmas. The hosts are in typically more festive mood; Clarke scoring a century in both Brisbane and Adelaide, with Mitchell Johnson's fast bowling also embarrassing England's batsmen in those venues.

One of them is Cook. His standing on the batting order has been queried by some but not within his own squad, where Prior has seen enough to convince him that the England captain is the right character to lead them out from between Ayers Rock and a hard place. At a ground where England have won just one Test - and 35 years ago at that - they must withstand the might of Johnson on a wicket which seems tailored to his talents.

The tourists will be looking to Cook for guidance, then, and Prior has every confidence in his captain. "I don't know the records he is about to break, but there are going to be a few of them," said the wicketkeeper of the 28-year-old opener who is already England's most prolific all-time centurion. "Playing his 100th Test, he will be probably the greatest England cricketer. In my mind, there is no doubt about that - and from a leader point of view, there is no other man I'd want taking us on to the field.

"He leads from the front and leads by example and I expect that he will do exactly that in this game [in Perth]. A massive congrats to him for playing 100 [Test matches]. Incredible."

England might be forgiven for seeking solace in those sorts of statistics since it is likely that the series will be 3-0 by the time they leave Perth. Prior is not willing to concede that his side's number is up just yet, though.

"For an England cricketer, it doesn't get any harder: two down in an Ashes series coming to Perth," he said. "[But] if we do come out and force a result here, how exciting would that be . . . in the England dressing room at the end of this game, getting a result in Perth to get back into this series? That's what we have to concentrate on and work towards. That's exactly what we're focusing on.

"It's all well and good me sitting here talking and going on about fight and hunger and everything. The only way we're going to show fight and hunger is out on that cricket pitch, performing and getting results - batsmen getting big hundreds, bowlers taking wickets and fielders diving on every ball.

"That's what we want to see in the dressing room - and that's what we expect. But we have got to go and do it."

Prior is inclined to come out swinging when forced into a corner, the wicketkeeper unafraid to emerge from behind the stumps to clutch at a ball fizzed down the wicket. It is a nature which he is keen for his team-mates to adopt against Australia.

"Walking out all timid, that's not the way we're going to win in Australia," he said. "We have to find ways of putting pressure back on the Aussie bowlers, and that's the way I hope we'll play. For us, it's no good just holding our hands up and saying we can't do anything about it.

"We have to find a way of dealing with it a lot better than we have done. We have to come back and throw a few of our own punches."

Prior would stick the head on remarks from Craig McDermott, the Australia bowling coach, too. He has claimed this week that Johnson will deliver the ball at a faster pace than the 90 miles-per-hour he managed in the last Test, utilising a wicket which is considered to be the bounciest in cricket.

The England man ensured he delivered his words slowly yesterday. "A coach sitting there saying 'he's going to bowl this' . . . well, great, well done," he said with a shrug. "It doesn't interest us at all. We'll wait and see what happens. He could lose complete rhythm and not bowl at all, who knows?

"You have to enjoy this challenge - being under pressure - because if you don't, you're not going to survive. You have to be able to smile at it yourself and go 'right, come on - let's knuckle down and embrace it'. If we can turn this around, it will be phenomenal and that's what we have to keep looking at."

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