Cricket: Stewart may have to rest on his laurels

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The Independent Online
IF ALEC STEWART has ever asked for a rest, he was no doubt playing snooker at the time. Anything beyond that, like putting his feet up for an international cricket match after touring since October and batting, wicketkeeping and being captain in five Tests and eight limited-overs games, does not feature in his vocabulary.

"I'm as good as gold," he said, when asked to describe his state of body and mind as England prepared for their ninth match in the Carlton & United Series, against Sri Lanka in Sydney tomorrow. Like the 10th, against Australia on Friday, it is effectively a dead contest. The two finals places have already been decided and England and Australia have them. Stewart does not quite see it that way.

"We don't want to go into the finals with two defeats. You want to ensure that whatever side you're putting out is one capable of beating the opposition. I don't want to miss games. These are international cricket matches, not dead games."

Stewart said that while he kept playing he was fine. After he arrives home at the finish of the one-day series in two weeks he may have some time off. "When I don't have to do, it my body will just collapse for two weeks," he said. "You can be pretty sure I won't be practising."

He is obviously, and justifiably, proud of the statistic that he has not missed an England one-day match for which he has been available since the last World Cup (he was in Australia when a team went to Bangla-desh last autumn), and even then he fielded for part of the time. That is more than 30 matches in which he has been opener and keeper.

For all Stewart's insistence on continuing his run, the decision might be taken out of his hands. It is his hands indeed which may be the reason. He has been playing with a bruised left thumb for several matches and, stoic though he is, it has clearly caused him discomfort. This may be the time to discover John Crawley's capabilities as keeper at this level and to try to establish who might open if Stewart was forced out.

"I'm only one of three selectors so I might be outvoted 2-1. But my vote will be the one unless the physio is adamant that I should have a break," he said. It may be the perfect opportunity for him to have at least one game off but his attitude is admirable.

England, as they insist they have throughout this tournament, will be selecting from 16. Of course, it is important not to lose both the remaining qualifying matches but the tour selectors will also be keen to give the fringe players a game. They may feel they have not discovered enough yet about the international propensity of Mark Alleyne, Vince Wells or even Ben Hollioake. All three will come into the reckoning this week because, while England have made significant one-day progress in the past month, they still need to deduce the appropriate balance for the World Cup squad which must be announced next month.

"There are 15 names for the World Cup and the thing is to make sure they are the right 15 guys. You have to make some hard decisions.When you're in possession and the team's doing well then it can be hard for some players back home."

England have different conditions to consider in the World Cup, they have to be sure of the international credentials of the men brought here as part of the selectorial intention to cast their net wide. But so far in this competition they have largely played sensibly and calmly. That must be borne in mind when it comes to next month.

n The Sri Lankan opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya will be out for at least six weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken arm in Melbourne yesterday. Jayasuriya suffered the injury when hit by a delivery from Australia's Brendon Julian on Sunday.