Cricket: Stewart stakes his claim

Henry Blofeld reports on the tough decisions that have reaped a rich harvest
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The Independent Online
The difference in class between the two sides made it highly unlikely that England would do anything more than draw the Fifth Test at Trent Bridge. This became a certainty when Mark Taylor had the good luck to win his fifth toss in a row.

It may well be that England will lose but it has still been a more encouraging match for them than either of the last two. There have been things to admire about England's cricket.

On the second morning, the bowling and fielding was exemplary as they brought Australia back from 302 for 3 to 427 all out. At that point, England had an outside chance of getting back into the match and this was underlined by the splendid opening partnership of 106 between Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart.

Stewart's innings was quite remarkable, not least in the way that it gave the lie to those who feel he should be protected from having to open as well as keep wicket. He has been in poor form with the bat in this series, each time coming in at the fall of the first wicket. There was a school of thought that now wanted to drop him to No 6, but the selectors spoke to Stewart and he said that he would rather open, where he has made most of his runs, and they agreed.

It was still the worst possible situation for him when the time came to bat. He had just withstood nine hours behind the stumps while Australia scored 427 runs. In 10 minutes, Stewart had to come off the field, change his clothes, put on a different set of pads and go straight out to bat. It was a hard task.

One important thing which counted in his favour was that the adrenaline was still flowing. He took guard and began to play strokes in a manner which he had not even hinted at earlier in the series. He raced ahead of his partner, treating the seam bowlers in the way Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe had managed at the start of the series at Edgbaston.

When Shane Warne came on Stewart was immediately on the attack, driving him back over mid-on and through the covers. It was inspirational stuff, but, sadly for England, there was no one to carry on the good work after Ian Healy had held a staggering catch off Warne. We now know Stewart must always open.

It was not until England were four wickets down and Thorpe and Adam Hollioake came together that there was again a real sense of challenge about England. Hollioake, like his brother Ben who played a brilliant cameo yesterday, clearly has a near-perfect temperament.

When batting in this, their first Test match, they both gave the impression that they were having a warm-up in the nets. They made 73 runs between them (45 and 28) and hit a total of 11 fours and one six, all with the purest of cricket strokes.

Ben's first scoring stroke - a whip through midwicket for four off Paul Reiffel - was every bit as convincing as the pull for four David Gower played off Liaquat Ali of Pakistan at Edgbaston in 1978 to open his Test account. The Hollioakes, too, are here to stay.