Conquering comeback

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The Independent Online
There are few sporting sights more thrilling than watching a player come back. Alec Stewart came back at Headingley yesterday and completed a wonderful second coming as a Test batsman.

He is not a player who betrays his emotions on the field. His face and body are usually wreathed in concentration. But when he took three runs from a straight drive which gave him his century in England's first innings against Pakistan he cavorted much of the way to the pavilion. In that ecstatic moment, he could have been dancing for England, not batting. Stewart thrust his bat triumphantly to his colleagues and then, as has become the modern way, saluted the crowd.

After the innings, which lasted seven all-but-impeccable hours, Stewart said that he thought it was fair enough when Nick Knight replaced him as opening batsman in the side at the start of the season. "Mike Atherton and David Lloyd said I had to go away and get runs," Stewart explained. "I still felt I was a Test cricketer. I thought I was going to have to get back in through weight of runs."

There is no question, however, that in some quarters his international career was written off. He had had three indifferent series in succession, culminating in a poor one in South Africa last winter. Fragile fingers had given way to fragile form and he has also had to contend with family illnesses - both his mother and his wife, Lynn, have been sick.

Stewart continued: "People can write and say what they want, but it's up to the individual to see their own ability and that's what I do. It was hard with mum's illness, and then Lynn's, at the start of the season. Obviously, the family comes first but when you are out in the middle you concentrate on your cricket."

How he concentrated yesterday. It was his first Test hundred since he scored 199 at Lord's against New Zealand two years and 28 innings ago and will unquestionably secure his place as Atherton's opening partner for the winter series. He has let nobody down since his recall to the side against India at Lord's, when Knight's broken finger reopened the opening berth.

Gritty and typically determined, initially he played like a man aware he had been given a lifeline. Stewart has got better as the summer has progressed and, if there were some questions posed about his return to first-choice opener in this match now that Knight is back, he answered most of them on Friday night and checked off any remaining on the list yesterday.

There were 24 boundaries in what Stewart quite happily conceded was his best innings for many a long day and his most effective shot among many was probably that trademark clip off his hips. The first 50 took 57 balls, the next required 111 more and the third a further 107. He was occasionally becalmed, but never troubled.

Against Pakistan at Edgbaston four years ago he reached Test maturity with a long innings of 190. Yesterday he re-presented his credentials. He was back.