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?
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
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

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game