By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY, Jan 2 (Reuters) - England have concerns over the fitness of spinner Monty Panesar but wicketkeeper Matt Prior will not return to the team for the fifth Ashes test against Australia, captain Alastair Cook said on Thursday.
The tourists, 4-0 down in the five-match series, are expected to make changes before they fight to restore some pride against a rampant Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground starting on Friday.
The SCG wicket has a greener tinge than usual for a test match but head groundsman Tom Parker believes it will still provide the traditional turn for spinners on the last couple of days of the test.
With England's best spinner Graeme Swann having retired after the Ashes were relinquished after the third test in Perth, Panesar would have been expected to be have been part of the side.
Leg spinner Scott Borthwick, paceman Boyd Rankin and Gary Ballance have all been touted to make their test debuts in the match at the expense of Panesar, Tim Bresnan and Michael Carberry, though, and Cook did not deny it might happen.
"I think it's possible yes," he told a news conference when asked if there might be three debutants. "We need to assess Monty after training today.
"He's had a bit of a sore calf from yesterday but we will see how he pulls through training today and make a decision on him either today or tomorrow.
"With all these injuries you have to wait and see how they pull up, especially with muscle strains."
Calls for the return of Prior, who was dropped for 24-year-old Jonny Bairstow for the fourth test, had an unlikely cheerleader when Australia captain Michael Clarke presented the case for the experienced wicketkeeper on Thursday.
Cook, though, said the veteran of 72 tests needed to get back to domestic cricket and start producing runs again if he wanted to force his way back into the side.
"I think Jonny deserves another chance, it's very difficult to come in for one test match," he added.
"We know he's a very talented cricketer, he's got another opportunity in this test match to show that.
"Matty's numbers stack up very well, he's a fantastic player, you don't do that without being a very good player, having such good numbers and being part of a winning side.
"But as he said himself, he didn't deserve to carry on playing. Going back to numbers, over the last year, he was not delivering with the bat.
"He's still a fantastic cricketer, he's 31 maybe? He's still got a lot of test cricket available to him if he wants it and he goes back to scoring runs for Sussex and pushing hard whoever's the keeper at the time." (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)