Stewart refuses to buckle under pressure

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The Independent Online

Whatever else he is, Lord Condon of cricket's Anti-Corruption Unit will surely never be mistaken for J Edgar Hoover.

The fabled old chief of the FBI was thought to have smuggled recording equipment into the bedrooms of great men like John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Lord Condon, by rather dismal comparison, complains that he cannot get a meeting with Alec Stewart.

Stewart, who since last November has been walking under the shadow of allegations that he took £5,000 from a match-fixing Indian bookmaker, has not exactly been wearing a false beard and passing himself off as a Scottish crofter. Anyone with the vaguest interest in cricket will be able to tell you that indeed he has been far too visible for his own good.

As stand-in for the injured England captain, Nasser Hussain, the man who for so long has been known in his trade as "The Gaffer" has seen a hitherto honourable and markedly professional career turn pretty much to rubble. On the psychologically vital run-in to the coming Ashes series, England under Stewart have become the chopping blocks of the one-day triangular series which will reach a climax between Australia and Pakistan at Lord's next Saturday.

In all his circumstances, which now included a barrage of negative publicity in the Sunday papers, it was remarkable enough that Stewart reported for duty at Headingley yesterday. Still more surprisingly, he was England's third top scorer and helped claim all four of the wickets Pakistan lost on their way to what would have been a formal victory but for a pitch invasion which required, in the interests of safety, the England captain to concede the game with his opponents still two runs short of their target.

Naturally, Stewart lost the toss and in his current situation that was probably the least of his surprises. Stewart, like his game, is in the most unenviable of corners. The fall of the South African captain, Hansie Cronje, the various levels of disgrace heaped upon some of the great names of Indian and Pakistan cricket, and the fact that a cornerstone of the English game like Stewart has been implicated, has left Lord Condon's anti-corruption trackers in pursuit of some rather elusive spoor.

Still, the latest leaks from the Condon unit seem to smack of nothing so much as desperation. Yesterday Stewart's lawyers were at pains to point out that their client, having initially and forcefully denied the charges against him, has clearly expressed his willingness to co-operate with Condon's people.

One reason for the delay was the time it took for the unit to produce any documented evidence they have against Stewart, which had finally been delivered to the player's lawyers only last week. It turns out that a month ago, and before Stewart was appointed replacement captain, Condon's team informed the England and Wales Cricket Board that they were "frustrated" by their failure to force an early meeting with Stewart. But, no, they did not want the board to intervene in any way. So why offer the information? Why leak the leaks?

In all of this there may be an unwelcome reality. It is that Lord Condon's mission can never have been much more than a cosmetic effort. The burden of proof, given the shadowy world in which the former head of the Metropolitan police force has been required to operate, has always been daunting, and, given the weight of suspicion in the game, the idea that Stewart would not surround himself with legal help, which in turn would insist on proper rules of engagement, is surely naïve.

Stewart insists, however, that he is eager to clear his name, and that he will do everything he can to co-operate with the authorities. All of which makes yesterday's leakage an odd reflection of what had been fondly believed to be a thorough investigative process.

Perhaps another irony has been the blazing passion which Pakistan have brought to their game in the last few weeks. After an extremely lame performance in the first Test at Lord's, Pakistan were immense in the second Test at Old Trafford and they go to Lord's poised to provide superb opposition to the world champion Australians in the one-day final. In just happens that the Pakistan resurrection coincided with another leak from the Condon unit, that one concerning the possibility of new attempts to fix matches.

Ever since, no cricket citizens have performed so far above suspicion as Pakistan. A high court judge in Pakistan may have expressed the view that Wasim Akram was unfit to captain his country, but Wasim performed with a brilliant, warrior fury in the Old Trafford Test and here yesterday, his successor, Waqar Younis, bowled like a god, taking seven English wickets for 36 runs.

For Alec Stewart, though, the effect of a Condon leak was rather less uplifting. It simply cranked up still more pressure. Forlornly, conceding a game had to be classed as a moment of relief.

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