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Cricket: Kiwi keeper in praise of opposite number

Alec Stewart's iron-man qualities drew admiration from friend and foe alike in Auckland yesterday after his brilliant 173.

The New Zealand captain, Lee Germon, also the Kiwis' wicketkeeper, said: "It has been a great effort from Alec. To keep wicket for more than four sessions and then to bat for six hours does take some doing. He has a very demanding task with the combination of those two jobs, but he's performing very well."

England's captain Mike Atherton, who made himself unavailable for comment despite confirming his own return to form with 83, did however make clear through the tour manager, John Barclay, his "delight" at Stewart's achievement.

Stewart feels as settled now as he has ever been in the England team, with this summer's Ashes series the big aim for the year ahead. But he said: "We have to get this series over first but I am enjoying my cricket at the moment, both the batting and the keeping. It's also nice to be still proving a few people wrong after last year when I was dropped.

"Leaving me out was their decision, and their opinion, but I've always had faith in my own ability. I'll always back myself.

"A lot has been said in the past about my batting being affected by my keeping, but I think I was never settled into a regular position a few years ago.

"I was being shuffled up and down the order, and I don't think I adjusted to going in at number five and six. I've always batted high in the order and I was very happy when the captain told me I would be at number three on this tour. I don't think you can open and keep regularly.

"As for my fitness, I've always tried to keep myself as fit as possible. But the fitness work we did with our new adviser, Dean Riddle, in Portugal, before the tour, and in the time we've been overseas, has paid dividends for me."