Cricket: Stewart displays his credentials as Gooch's successor: Martin Johnson reports from Chandigarh on the new-found staying power of England's captain-elect

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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH it was Neil Fairbrother's helicopter blade that finally propelled England's cricketers breathlessly across the winning line, Monday's opening one-day international also provided further evidence that Alec Stewart has all but completed the onerous task of emerging from Micky's shadow. The son, so to speak, continues to rise in the east.

Stewart's 91 provided the essential platform for Fairbrother's match-winning burst of educated slogging, and in the space of less than three years, Stewart has made the transition from a hit and miss middle-order batsman with a faulty technique, capable of a flashy 30 or 40 on flat pitches, to England's captain elect and Mr Dependable.

He has never lacked confidence in his own ability, and the slightly arrogant swagger that he carries with him at the crease works very nicely in getting under the opposition's skin. Off the field, however, Stewart is a quiet, self-effacing character, and his thirst to keep on improving his game prompted him to nab a seat next to Geoffrey Boycott on the team's evening flight out of Jaipur.

You have got to have dedication to the job, not to mention a high tolerance threshold for one-sided conversations, to volunteer to have Boycott dripping words of wisdom into your left ear for the thick end of an hour and a half, and not everyone can tolerate even five minutes with Sky TV's commentator and England's honorary batting coach.

Robin Smith, for example, was less than delighted with Boycott's encouraging words before last week's practice game in Delhi ('just as well you're opening, you might get a few before the spinners come on . . .') and there are those in the touring party who are not as totally sold as Graham Gooch on Boycott's dressing-oom presence being good for morale. Keith Fletcher, for instance, will recall that on his last visit to India, Boycott was sent home for playing golf during a Test match when he was supposed to be too unwell to take the field.

However, Stewart will take whatever highly qualified help is on offer, as has been his attitude since his first exposure to international cricket. That was also in India, for the 1989 Nehru Cup, one of those one-day tournaments arranged whenever an excuse can be found to stage one.

Stewart has subsequently had to battle against thinly veiled charges of nepotism (Fletcher has solved his predecessor's problem by the simple expedient of having two daughters) but his competitive streak and appetite for hard work are qualities dear to Gooch's heart, and had a direct bearing on Stewart's elevation to the vice-captaincy for the 1990 tour to the West Indies.

It was on that trip that England altered their game plan from compulsory rum punches and optional nets to optional rum punches and compulsory nets, and where Stewart first got to grips with his faulty technique in Test cricket. 'I like to hit the ball,' he said, 'but I realised that I was trying to hit too many good ones at that level. In order to survive, I have had to tighten up.'

His competitive instincts have, however, never altered. After losing to Pakistan in the World Cup final, Ian Botham, who can scarcely be described as a non-competitor, was smiling broadly and shaking hands with the world and his dog. Stewart wandered around the outfield looking as though he wanted nothing more than a cyanide capsule.

If there is a downside to this combative nature, we have already seen it more than once on this trip, in that Stewart is a little too quick than is wise to register disapproval of umpiring decisions that have gone against him. It is not a huge vote-catcher in the future captaincy stakes, although his closest rival, Mike Gatting, scarcely has an unblemished record in this respect either.

As for Fairbrother, his selection for this tour (along with that of Dermot Reeve) owed everything to the fact that the one-day international has now developed such a dominant role on all overseas visits. Had this winter been all about the Test matches, the Lancashire left-hander would have been watching Manchester United live, rather than scuttling anxiously round to the press box for the result every Sunday morning.

Fletcher's post-match press conference was a little bit on the lines of Basil Fawlty's vision of his wife on Mastermind ('special subject, the bleeding obvious . . .') during which his theme was that 'one-day cricket is a totally different game to Test matches.'

The clear inference was that, however vital Fairbrother's innings had been, he would not be in the reckoning for the Test series unless someone got injured. However, England do have a more immediate problem over selection, which is whether they can continue to soldier on with John Emburey.

Emburey should be available for the second one-day international here tomorrow, despite the fact that he has a minor groin strain. However, it is more surprising that one or two of the opposition batsmen are not carrying groin strains from continually hitting him for six, and, fit or otherwise, the selectors will be giving serious thought to replacing him with Philip Tufnell for this next match.