Cricket: Stewart seeks staying power

THE build-up to the first Test of a summer series is always a predictable affair. Long before the Tories coined the slogan "New Labour - New Dangers", successive England captains were trotting out the "new season - new optimism" line that followed the inevitable series defeat abroad.

This time England have a new captain to put spin on the well-worn phrase and yesterday Alec Stewart was fizzing them out like Shane Warne in an attempt to explain why England's fortunes might be different under him.

So far the Stewart script has been unerringly faithful to the original, with soundbites such as: "If we play to our potential" and "As long as we bring more consistency to our game", etc etc. Indeed, you sense that Stewart has been so inundated with tired old cliches throughout his career that he has even begun to believe them.

"I've spoken to all the players, either individually or in pairs," said Stewart, after a rain-interrupted practice at Edgbaston. "I've told them what I expect of them and what England expects of them, which is to express themselves as they would do for their county."

Normally, this would count as good common sense, except that England players have tended to play that way all along, only to be tripped up by their Test opponents because of the weak nature of county cricket. What England need to find is the staying power necessary to compete against focused adversaries over a five-match series.

New captains are always under pressure to assert themselves and Stewart, though neither shy or retiring, is no different. Unsurprisingly, he has already made his mark by insisting that the England lions and coronet, placed for some reason above the heart for the one-day series, were put back in the middle of the sweater where they belong.

Taking on authority so early is a bold start and he will need to continue it on the field if England are to compete this summer. Australia apart, South Africa are cricket's most tenacious competitors, though in some ways their instinct for defence when under pressure mirrors England's.

"I hope it is hard, tough cricket," Stewart said. "It's the way international cricket should be. It's a competitive place. I know people are always worried about players overstepping the mark, but my main concern has always been respect for the game."

On the field, South Africa risk little, relying mainly on incisive spells from Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock to protect totals often cobbled together by their lengthy, but not stellar batting order.

The cricket ought to be intense, particularly during the opening exchanges when both sides will be working to gain that crucial early momentum. Having played here many times as Warwickshire's overseas players, Donald and Pollock will feel at home, although the pitch, according to Dennis Amiss, the Warwickshire secretary, "is not one they will recognise".

Over the past few years, Edgbaston has produced some fickle surfaces for Tests. In 1995, the one used against the West Indies not only left England beaten before lunch on the third day, but several batsmen nursing bruised chests and broken fingers.

"It looks flat, evenly grassed and a touch damp," said Stewart, who admitted he would have probably bowled first had the match started yesterday and not this morning. Mind you, with the entire square spending most of yesterday under five acres of Brumbrella, change will be minimal and Stewart's first toss in England could well be a vital one.

The uncertainty over the pitch's final appearance means that England will delay naming their 11 until this morning. With good weather forecast over the next few days, they dare not drop their only spinner and it will probably be between Dominic Cork and Dean Headley for the last bowling place.

Likewise, South Africa will decide between Lance Klusener and Brian McMillan, with Jonty Rhodes' recent run binge against Gloucestershire making sure of his berth in the middle-order.

It is, with his keeping duties bound to tire him, where Stewart has decided to bat as well, though he will start at four in this Test, with Nasser Hussain filling the troublesome No 3 spot behind the openers, Mike Atherton and Mark Butcher.

Asked whether, by keeping wicket, captaining, and batting in the top four, he was biting off more than he could chew? Stewart replied that he "liked challenges".

Just as well, because his biggest challenge is to get his team to assert themselves as much as their captain clearly intends to do. If he can, the old cliches can be made redundant and that oft-used word "optimism", at least when applied to England's cricketers, will cease to have a hollow ring.

ENGLAND (from): A Stewart (capt & wkt, Surrey), M Atherton (Lancs), M Butcher (Surrey), N Hussain (Essex), G Thorpe (Surrey), M Ramprakash (Middlesex), D Cork (Derby), M Ealham (Kent), R Croft (Glamorgan), D Gough (Yorks), A Fraser (Middlesex), D Headley (Kent).

SOUTH AFRICA (from): W Cronje (capt), M Boucher (wkt), G Liebenberg, G Kirsten, J Kallis, D Cullinan, J Rhodes,S Pollock, L Klusener, A Donald, P Adams, B McMillan.

Umpires: R Tiffin (Zim) and D Shepherd (Eng).

TV umpire: J Hampshire (Eng).

Match referee: J Burki (Pak).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick