THE CAPTAIN, Alec Stewart, last night calmed fears about his troublesome back after his non-appearance in the field during England's dramatic one- run victory over an ACB Chairman's XI.
Stewart was forced to hand over the captaincy to his predecessor, Michael Atherton, at Lilac Hill as England kept their nerve to restrict the ACB to 296 in reply to their 297 for 5.
Stewart had suffered a stiff back while batting. It is a recurrence of the problem that flared up prior to the second Test against South Africa at Lord's earlier this year and poses further questions about his ability to captain, keep wicket and bat up the order on a regular basis.
But Stewart, delighted at winning an Aus$10 [pounds 3.85] bet with his rival captain, Simon Katich, in the closing stages of the game when the hosts looked favourites to claim a surprise triumph, calmed nerves by insisting he would be ready to face Western Australia in the four-day game at the WACA, starting tomorrow.
"It was just a little bit of stiffness," he said. "If it had been a Test match or a first-class game we were playing today, then I would have played, but I stayed off as a precaution."
The captain's absence was compounded by the all-rounder Ben Hollioake's failure to take the field as a precaution with groin trouble, but Stewart said: "He slipped turning for a second run and felt his groin - we kept him off just as a precaution and he has had a bit of ice on it this afternoon."
Their absence allowed England, with the agreement of their opponents, to play Darren Gough as a substitute fielder who was allowed to bowl, a factor which proved crucial in the final stages.
Refusing to be intimidated by England's daunting total, the ACB were given a rapid start by the flamboyant openers Mike Hussey and Ryan Campbell, who exploited some short and wayward bowling to forge an 87-run partnership in 17 overs.
Alex Tudor, perhaps the most inconsistent of England's bowlers in conceding 44 runs off his opening seven overs, dismissed both openers when he finally began to find his range and finished with 3 for 62.
Further useful contributions from Matthew Elliott, Katich, Rob Baker and Michael Dighton left the ACB requiring just 16 off the final 15 deliveries, prompting the bet between the two captains.
Gough, though, proved his pedigree by assisting in two run-outs and claiming a crucial wicket with two overs remaining to end the ACB's brave challenge off the final ball, leaving them just one run adrift of a shock result.
"We are looking to win every game, but that was tight," admitted Stewart. "We did not bowl as well as we can early on because we are just not used to the length we need to bowl here. We have been talking about the discipline required and we gave them a bit too much width and bowled it a bit short, but as the innings wore on we bowled much better."
If the bowlers struggled, Stewart will be delighted with the early form of his batsmen ahead of the match with Western Australia.
Against an attack which included 49-year-old Dennis Lillee, Atherton stood out with a classy 88 from 108 balls, while Stewart was equally impressive in scoring 74 from 68 deliveries with 10 boundaries. But the most fluent of all the England batsmen was John Crawley, who raced to his half-century off just 39 deliveries before being run out for 64, having hit two sixes and five other boundaries.
Ironically, Crawley could miss out this weekend as all seven batsmen have been named in England's 12-man squad and the tour management will be keen to give both Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe a run-out.
ACB Chairman's XI won toss
M A Butcher b Reid 19
M A Atherton c Katich b Canning 88
B C Hollioake c & b Nicholson 28
*A J Stewart b Nicholson 74
J P Crawley run out 64
M R Ramprakash not out 9
W K Hegg not out 4
Extras (lb6, w3, nb2) 11
Total (for 5, 50 overs) 297
Fall: 1-32, 2-101, 3-170, 4-276, 5-288.
Did not bat: D G Cork, A J Tudor, D W Headley, P M Such.
Bowling: Lillee 6-0-22-0; Reid 7-1-30-1; Nicholson 10-0-46-2; Angel 8- 1-55-0; Canning 10-0-74-1; Baker 9-0-64-0.
ACB CHAIRMAN'S XI
M E Hussey b Tudor 32
R J Campbell c Butcher b Tudor 74
M T G Elliott lbw b Gough 39
*S M Katich c Crawley b Headley 27
R M Baker run out 38
G M Wood b Such 10
M Dighton c Atherton b Tudor 31
T Canning run out 22
M Nicholson b Gough 4
J Angel run out 5
B A Reid not out 0
Extras (b4, lb4, w4, nb2) 14
Total (50 overs) 296
Fall: 1-87, 2-124, 3-139, 4-172, 5-217, 6-257, 7-270, 8-283, 9-294.
Bowling: Gough 10-2-40-2; Cork 10-0-50-0; Headley 10-1-55-1; Tudor 10- 0-62-3; Such 9-0-67-1; Butcher 1-0-14-0.
Umpires: R Woolbridge and R Emerson.