Graveney backs ousted Stewart

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The Independent Online

Alec Stewart was yesterday reassured that he still has a future in international cricket despite losing his central contract to the talented young wicketkeeper James Foster.

The England career of Stewart, 39, appeared in jeopardy but the chairman of selectors David Graveney said the former national team captain will still be considered to face India and Sri Lanka this summer.

"We have been very happy with James' efforts over the winter," Graveney said. "The situation has been explained to Alec Stewart – and I can confirm he will not be excluded from future discussions regarding team selection."

The other principal omissions from the England and Wales Cricket Board XI were Stewart's out-of-form county colleague Mark Ramprakash and the Yorkshire all-rounder Craig White.

The central contracts were given to all those who played in the last Test against New Zealand, aside from Ramprakash. The other contract was handed to the Yorkshire pace bowler Darren Gough, after ending his self-imposed exile from Test cricket.

Ramprakash, 32, paid the price for his low-scoring winter, in which he hit only 236 runs in 10 Test innings in India and New Zealand.

The ECB did not hand the vacant budgeted contract to anyone else, with 11 players named rather than the anticipated dozen. The England captain Nasser Hussain wants to expand the number of contracted players to 15, and he seems likely to get his wish, as the ECB says plans to expand the scheme will be discussed next month.

Players awarded a central contract who were involved in only the Test matches or one-day squads during the winter (Gough and Butcher) will be available to play for their counties from the start of the season.

Players involved in the Test matches and the one-day squads during the winter (Hussain, Trescothick, Vaughan, Thorpe, Flintoff, Foster, Caddick, Hoggard and Giles) will be available to play for their counties in the final two Benson & Hedges Cup group matches and the County Championship match from 8 to 11 May.

No player selected for the first Test against Sri Lanka will be available for the Norwich Union League matches on Sunday 12 May.

ENGLAND'S CONTACTED PLAYERS: N Hussain, M A Butcher, A R Caddick, A Flintoff, J S Foster, A F Giles, D Gough, M J Hoggard, G P Thorpe, M E Trescothick, M P Vaughan.