Cricket: Stewart sends all the right messages

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The Independent Online
FOR ALL anyone in the John T's bar knew, the quiet group in the corner were a bunch of friends on a night out. Half a dozen young men in jeans and casual tops. Wives in trouser suits. No one making a noise or creating a fuss. One or two smoking cigarettes. One reading a newspaper.

The scene was so normal that the few other people in the bar of the Marriott Hotel, not far from Leeds railway station, took little notice as the group ordered a drink or two. Several of the men had small meals from the snack menu - chilli con carne, pasta, salad, all the right stuff - and took them to one side while the rest sat around and chatted.

They were recognised by the other group in the bar. A bunch of rock musicians who had just finished their gig muttered: "That's those England cricketers. Hicky, Salisbury, Stewart. They're meant to beat South Africa tomorrow, aren't they? You'd never think they'd all those worries on their shoulders, would you?"

Perhaps that is one of the secrets of the success of this England team. They are a down-to-earth lot who are nerver likely to attract the wrong kind of publicity and, moreover, do not need to be told what is expected of them.

With two wickets to take but only 34 runs to play with, England were facing a day of high tension. Yet even before what was the most important session of play England have faced in recent years, the captain, Alec Stewart, did not feel the need to make an "up guards and at 'em" speech to his team.

Stewart, who once admitted that his team were "sick of the sound of my voice", said: "The lads knew what was wanted. Two wickets. No mistakes. Keep it simple. We sent the bowlers out for a practice just before the match and they came back and said how many people were watching. Otherwise just a normal day."

Angus Fraser, one of England's bowling heroes, had treated the occasion in similar fashion. "What did I do last night?" he murmured after victory was complete yesterday. "Next to nothing, to be frank. A drink, a bit of food, off to the room and a hot bath to relax and get to sleep. At 33 you need your sleep."

Before the players had gone to bed last night, Fraser wandering out of the bar as he does on his shamble back to his bowling mark, one of the members of the rock band introduced his girlfriend. "Meet the bird," he said, setting political correctness momentarily to one side.

"Now, love, this is Stewie, Hicky, Sals, Butch, Corky and Goughy. We're going to win in the morning, aren't we lads?"

She knew better. "Don't try it on wi' me," she said, Yorkshire as Ilkley Moor. "That's them going to bed early. More sense than to be hanging round here drinking like you lot when there's a big match on.

"Wi' sense like that they'll win in t'morning. You'll see."

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