Cricket: Stewart set to lead England's `Lord Lucans'

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The Independent Online
IF IT were politics, Alec Stewart would have been lucky to find himself grazing on the back benches let alone back in charge again, six months after being sacked. Named as captain for today's one-day match against a Gauteng XI in Lenasia, Stewart's promotion is the clearest indication yet who will take over should Nasser Hussain get injured.

The England hierarchy have been very cagey about who might deputise for Hussain, saying all along that the decision will be made, and players informed, on a match-to-match basis. With Michael Atherton refusing to entertain the idea, and with Mark Butcher - the one-off captain last summer when Hussain broke his finger - playing alongside Stewart here, it looks as if the former captain has the job, an irony that will not be lost on the man who claimed he had been made a scapegoat for England's failures in the World Cup.

The game, against a side that could include as many as six non-whites, is an opportunity for the forgotten faces to show their worth as England rest key players. Every tour has its "Lord Lucan", the player or players who, having last been sighted boarding a jet in full tour uniform, promptly disappear from sight once the serious cricket starts. Often they are never heard of again, which is why the likes of Darren Maddy, Graeme Swann, Chris Read and Alex Tudor, largely anonymous since landing in South Africa five weeks ago, have been given the chance to jog the memories.

On tour, opportunity does not often knock more than once, and the pressure to impress will be high. Chris Silverwood, flown half way around the world to replace the injured Dean Headley, will be another keen to make an impact. With question marks over the performance of Gavin Hamilton in the last Test, the two pace bowlers could be pushing for places, though Tudor, still feeling the effects of his summer lay-off, does not yet look fit enough for the longer game.

That will leave Silverwood, plucked suddenly from the A team tour of Bangladesh and New Zealand, as the player with most to gain from the match, though many felt, Ian Botham among them, that he should have played in the last Test. Last season, Justin Langer, Middlesex's Australian Test batsman, reckoned Silverwood was the fastest bowler he faced. With plaudits like that, it is clear that the Yorkshire bowler is ready to add to the single England cap he won in Zimbabwe three winters ago.

"People ask me if I'm frustrated not to have got more than one cap," he said on Monday. "But I just think that most fast bowlers would give their right arm to be here like I am, with a foot in the door."

Unaware that his mixed metaphors would actually make it extremely difficult to bowl, he is a whole-hearted performer with great stamina. If doubts do linger, it is his over-reliance on the new ball for his wickets. Indeed, many close to him feel he needs to add consistent swing or seam to his undoubtable pace if he is to trouble top players.

Just how many top players he will encounter today is a mystery. With race politics breathing heavily once more in cricket's direction, the team - apart from the captain Clive Eksteen, Sven Koening, Walter Masimula and Rudi Bryson - are largely of unknown quality.

Bryson's presence is a puzzle. A bowler for Northerns, not Gauteng, he has clearly been given a game here after missing out in the combined match at Centurion Park that preceded the first Test. Asked to stand down at the 11th hour in favour of Masimula, after the initial all-white selection had caused an outcry, this is clearly the Gauteng selectors' underhand way of saying thank you to him.

If the glib gesture is picked up by those in Lenasia, a township south of Soweto, feelings could run high. If they do, the drama may not be limited solely to the field of play.