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Matt Prior (left) suffered from a calf injury while Kevin Pietersen is struggling from a recurring knee injury © Getty Images

England’s preparations for the Ashes 2013-14 have suffered a few setbacks with some of their key players being injured. Matt Prior is a major doubt for the first Test in Brisbane and Kevin Pietersen is not 100 per cent fit with the knee injury popping up again. If these two stalwarts of English cricket miss out, it could mean a big psychological blow for England. Shrikant Shankar writes…

The last time England toured Australia in the 2010-11 season, they hammered them 3-1 in the Ashes. All three matches were won by an innings. There many injuries that befell England during the series, especially in the bowling department. Still, that did not deter Andrew Strauss’s side. Now as the Ashes 2013-14 is set to begin in a few days’ time, England have what it takes to win a fourth straight  crown . At full strength, England might just shade Australia as many of their players were part of the 2010-11 success. This includes Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior.

Pietersen’s awe-inspiring 227 at Adelaide gave England the lead. Prior’s belligerent 118 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) helped England seal the series 3-1. But, with these two having  picked up injuries just before the first Test, England seems to be in a bit of bother. – If one looks at the bigger picture, Pietersen and Prior are  just two individuals in a team sport and England will have replacements ready. They did the same in 2010-11 and surprised many with strength in depth. But on the other hand,  Australia are improving as well and they will gain a lot psychologically if Pietersen and Prior miss out,  and the entire country will make England realise what they will miss.

While Prior is a more serious doubt with a calf injury, Pietersen’s knee problem flared up again and might not be 100 per cent fit even if he pays.  The England team management have to take a decision quickly and they have less than 10 days remaining. Jonny Bairstow has been talked about as Prior’s replacement behind the wickets and his experience of winning the Ashes 2013 will help him. But he is no Prior, who has established himself as one of the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the last few years in Test cricket.

If Pietersen has to be replaced, the situation becomes even tougher. Michael Carberry is a sure shot for the first Test after some impressive displays in the tour matches. So he is not the replacement. Gary Ballance was in the side for the second tour match with Pietersen, so he too may not be the batsman who comes in. So that only leaves Ben Stokes and he is yet to make a debut in Tests.

The situation which England find themselves in is very difficult. The team management will be left in a quandary whether to not risk two very important players for one Test to ensure that they participate in the remainder of the series or  to risk them playing hoping not to  lose the first Test. But what if both play and England lose the first Test and the duo are ruled out for a major part of the series? The Australians will be loving this after being on the receiving end of some right royal poundings against England in recent years. If both are termed fit, then there is no worry. But if they aren’t 100 per cent, then what do England do? The best thing for them is to trust their entire squad and not just the starting XI. But come what may, psychologically Australia will try to make most of the opportunity.

(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)