Cricket: Crunch time for captain Stewart

England selectors choose experience over inspiration as mastering pressure situations becomes the priority

IT IS A rare thing for full-time captaincy to elude someone for 75 Tests, for it suggests that important qualities are lacking. For Alec Stewart, named yesterday as Michael Atherton's successor as England captain, the eventual promotion has come more by default than from the possession of outstanding leadership qualities, though few would perhaps begrudge such an unstinting and loyal foot soldier the chance to swap his khaki for the braid of higher office.

Stewart, now 35 and looking smarter than a Burton's dummy at Lord's yesterday, is the first Surrey player to lead England since 1961, when Peter May was captain against Australia. Although he has captained England twice before - in 1993 after Graham Gooch fell ill - Stewart will be in charge for the five-match Test series against South Africa next month as well as the one-off Test against Sri Lanka in August.

If one such elevation is usually enough for a county to celebrate, the appointment yesterday of Adam Hollioake as one-day captain will have made it doubly joyful, and the Prince of Wales' feathers will probably seen flying from every flagpole in SE11 for the next week.

Mind you, that Hollioake has only been appointed for the Texaco matches this month and not the triangular tournament in August does suggest that the selectors are perhaps getting cold feet over the dual captaincy. If they are, Stewart's role, as one of a handful of players worthy of both Test and one-day places, could expand even further. Indeed, it would not be too far fetched to see him installed as England captain for next year's World Cup.

Speaking after David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, had made the formal announcement yesterday Stewart immediately scotched suggestions that he was about to put the lid on English cricket's Pandora's box once and for all.

"Obviously I'm not going to wave a magic wand and suddenly make everything hunky dory," Stewart said. "What we will be doing is our best to be competitive and to be consistent. If we do that, then we've a chance of being a good side."

Unlike Atherton, who in the end chose not to vote, Stewart has decided to be a part of the selection process, and is very certain of the kind of player he wants. "They must have the will to win. Be desperate for success, and be proud of playing for their country. In fact our biggest challenge is to learn how to come out on top in the crunch situations," he said.

With the final choice being between just two candidates - Stewart and Nasser Hussain - the decision by Graveney and his selectors, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, was, in the end at least, a unanimous one. "The deciding factor in Alec's favour," Graveney said afterwards, "was his experience and respect within the team."

The history of Test cricket is not exactly littered with captains who have kept wicket, a role Stewart will almost certainly have to perform this summer if England are to play a five-man bowling attack. For England, yet to win a five-match Test series since 1986/87, a major worry must be that too much responsibility is being heaped upon their most important player.

Having to perform three vital jobs at once invites compromise and Stewart, despite an oft-stated preference for opening - something his Test batting average also bears out, being 47 without the gloves and 32 with - will bat at either three or four, providing he keeps wicket.

But even if Stewart is happy in himself about the move down the order, any further drop in Atherton's currently modest form could leave England with an inexperienced pair of opening batsmen.

English cricket may have stopped shooting itself in the foot quite as often as it used to, but facing the new ball partnership of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock without Stewart or an in-from Atherton to combat them would be handing the opposition a huge advantage.

Stewart, a big fan of Atherton's, counters this by saying he would be surprised, despite one newspaper's ridiculous claims that the Lancashire man would no longer be welcome in the England dressing-room, if his old partner was not opening the innings in the first Test at Edgbaston.

If 35 seems an odd time to be fulfilling one's boyhood dreams Stewart, as he has already done with his batting, takes inspiration from the example of Gooch: "I always look at Graham Gooch, who took on the job for the first time at about the same age and kept playing Test cricket past the age of 40. Like him, as long as I'm good enough, I'd like to play for England as long as possible."

Ironically, it was probably due to this similarity in outlook and style as Gooch's vice-captain that persuaded the selectors to overlook him in favour of Atherton following Gooch's resignation as captain in 1993.

Perhaps therein lies a possible problem. Gooch, Gatting and Stewart are so like-minded that a more questioning mind, such as Hussain's, might have forced the selectors to search more deeply for solutions than they may otherwise do. As it is, Stewart expects to be able call on both Atherton and Hussain for advice.

With Australia to follow this winter, Stewart could not have wished for a more difficult 12 months in which to rectify his record of two losses from two Tests in charge. Pointing out that it will not be easy is an understatement. In Stewart, England have one of the great survivors and players of the last decade. They also have a man intent on teaching England how to win. Let us hope the learning curve is a steep one.

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lift Repairs Sales Account Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

Ashdown Group: Assistant Management Accountant - Part Qualified CIMA / ACCA

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are recruitment for an Assistan...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea