Cricket: Stewart injury rocks England

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The Independent Online
Melvista Park does not even feature on England's official itinerary, but the mere mention of the place is by now enough to send players scurrying for ice-packs and the physiotherapist. First Graham Gooch, now Alec Stewart.

Stewart, the England vice- captain, broke the index finger of his right hand when struck by a rising delivery from Craig White in a practice match yesterday. He will miss England's first two one-day games, the four-day encounter with Western Australia starting on Saturday and, almost certainly, the South Australia first-class match the following Friday.

This is a serious setback, because Mike Atherton is intent on having Stewart as his opening partner in the Test series, and the pair need to bat and score runs together from the start of the tour. In Stewart's absence, Graham Gooch will be promoted from No 5 to go in first. Gooch will not mind, because he prefers to open, but England's plans have been badly undermined.

Stewart, his index and middle fingers strapped together, said: 'I've been hit on this finger many times, but it is the first time I've suffered anything worse than bruising.' Dave Roberts, the physiotherapist, expects Stewart to be able to have a gentle net within a week and play in a match within two.

The injury happened on the picturesque ground overlooking Perth, where four years ago Gooch split his hand in a similiar warm-up match. The cut became septic and Gooch suffered several anxious days before he recovered.

As for the action, John Crawley, with a somewhat scratchy 85 not out, and Graeme Hick, 64 from 60 balls, did themselves most favours.

In the meantime, four of Australia's finest were holding court. Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh, with 182 years and 304 Test matches between them, were in splendid nick. The hair has almost gone in Lillee's case and is grey in Thomson's, but the bodies are trim and the tongues still sharp.

They got together for a photo-call and general back- slap before lining-up for the Australian Cricket Board Chairman's XI in England's opening match.

It was good, knock-about stuff.

Many Australians seem obsessed with Keith Fletcher's assertion that Devon Malcolm might possibly be as quick or even quicker than Thomson. They talk of little else - and the quartet's views on the subject came thick and fast.

Lillee was as forthright as you can get. 'Thommo was the fastest bowler I ever saw or faced,' he said. 'Before he crashed into Alan Turner when they both went for a catch in a game against Pakistan, he was truly frightening.

He was timed at 99.98mph, I think it was, and bowled every ball in the high 90s. Malcolm can bowl the occasional fast delivery when he doesn't fall away in his delivery stride, but maybe only one in six or one in 10.'

Thomson's verdict was 'I think Fletch must have had a memory lapse' and rather looked as though he fancied a bowl at the England coach to remind him. Chappell told the story of how, at the WACA here, a Thomson bouncer soared over the wicketkeeper and crashed into the sightscreen without bouncing again.

They agreed that England appear to have developed a steelier edge since Ray Illingworth's arrival - 'the best captain I played against,' Lillee said - and that this would be a close series. But they are now too old and too mellow to be sent into a demonic fury by the sight of a Pom.

Talking of age, Chappell believes Gooch will be feeling his by the end of the trip. Chappell, who like the other three was in the opposition when Gooch made his Test debut in 1975, wonders whether, at 41, he still has the mental capacity to succeed at the highest level.

'It is not the eyes or body that go, but the mind,' Chappell said. 'It will be a long, hot season and you have to question whether Gooch still has the mental strength. If he starts well, he might be OK. But if you struggle for form, there will be days when you're standing in the field and wondering what the hell you're doing there. Everyone has his use-by date. I've no doubt I could still do it, but I couldn't put in the mental effort day in, day out. I retired at 35 because I lost my desire.'

Gooch has apparently discussed this very matter with Chappell and, although the former England captain admitted that mental application becomes more difficult, he insisted that he has never been more motivated. 'I will know when the time has come to pack in,' Gooch had said, 'and it hasn't come yet.'

ENGLAND (v Western Australia, Perth, Thursday): M A Atherton (capt), G A Gooch, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, C White, S J Rhodes (wkt), D Gough, P A J DeFreitas, D E Malcolm, P C R Tufnell.

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