Cricket: Stewart follows example of his predecessors

IT WAS always likely that Alec Stewart would be a captain in the mould of Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton. That hectic second innings on the fourth day at Edgbaston was magnificent and set up a defiantly challenging target for South Africa, but this sort of thing is foreign to Stewart's intrinsic nature as a captain.

He is by nature cautious and this was most apparent on the second day at Lord's. South Africa began at 135 for 4 and Jonty Rhodes and Hansie Cronje had already put on 89. England desperately needed a wicket.

This was especially so as the surface moisture that remained in the pitch was likely to dry quickly in the warm, sunny conditions. Yet Stewart immediately put back a third man and a fine leg for both Dominic Cork and Angus Fraser, his main strike bowlers. He should surely have tried to apply as much pressure as he could before the batsmen had again played themselves in. Three slips, a gully and a forward short leg should have been a minimum requirement and perhaps a fourth slip and silly point.

This would have given Rhodes and Cronje something to think about. Of course, there would have been more gaps in the field, but a wicket was of a much greater value to England than a few runs given away. The risk was worth taking but Stewart did not like the look of it.

Like his two immediate predecessors, Stewart seems to be instinctively mistrustful of spinners. His offspinner, Robert Croft, gave him another option which he might have used on Thursday when Rhodes and Cronje were starting to build their partnership. On the second morning it was not until an hour and a half had gone by that the ball was thrown to Croft. By then, both batsmen were set although, as it happened, Croft did not bowl particularly well. But this is not the point. In a difficult situation, Stewart had another option available but refused to make use of it until he had run out of all other ideas.

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