CRICKET: Poignant return for Stewart

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND COMPLETED the final touches to their early tour preparations before their opening match today, with the captain, Alec Stewart, urging his team to ignore the festival atmosphere and produce a clinical, professional performance.

Stewart returns to Lilac Hill, where he spent eight years playing grade cricket, to lead England out against an Australia Cricket Board chairman's XI featuring the former Test players Dennis Lillee, Graeme Wood and Bruce Reid.

The England captain admits it will be "special" to lead his country at his former Australian base but he is far too pragmatic a professional to be carried away by the traditional festival mood of the match.

"I was out with all the players I used to play with last night but I told them we were going there to win," he said.

"Dennis Lillee would not play if he was going to embarrass himself, and Reidy can still bowl and could probably still play Shield or Test cricket if he was fit. So it will be a good test."

A gentle introduction it may be - by Australian standards - but England are also keen to give as many of their 17-man party as possible a run in the match or the four-day game against Western Australia at the WACA, starting this weekend.

Memories still linger of last winter's tour to the Caribbean when injuries in the opening few weeks forced England to select players who had not had a game prior to the opening Test.

"Whoever the Test side are going to be I want them to be a well prepared Test side," he said. "There may be the odd change if someone gets injured or loses form, but come Brisbane I would like to think the 11 are spot on for that Test."

Meanwhile, the England chairman of selectors, David Graveney, wants Graeme Hick to help ease the problem of a shortage of all-rounders.

England's shortcomings in this area were highlighted in the Wills International Cup defeat against South Africa in Dhaka, when the make-up of their side meant there was no room for a second specialist spinner. But he believes Hick can at least give them one extra option and he wants him to develop his off-spin.

"It is a question of having the flexibility and having various bowling options without lessening the batting," he said. "I do think it is a problem in all of our cricket.

"As far as Graeme Hick is concerned, it is a bowling option that we need to expand. If we can develop that and go into a game with two legitimate spinners rather than one and a half it does open options up."