Stewart revels in his revenge

NatWest Series: Still smarting from rejection, England's ageless superhero bounds into realms of fairytale

It is romantic nonsense about revenge being a dish that is best eaten cold. Alec Stewart was very cross when he was dropped from England's one-day squad in South Africa, not so many months ago. He admitted as much after yesterday's game. In the past five days his revenge has been consumed in three separate courses.

It is romantic nonsense about revenge being a dish that is best eaten cold. Alec Stewart was very cross when he was dropped from England's one-day squad in South Africa, not so many months ago. He admitted as much after yesterday's game. In the past five days his revenge has been consumed in three separate courses.

The first was 101 against Zimbabwe at Edgbaston; the second was 100 not out against West Indies at Trent Bridge. Yesterday the last course was still scalding when it ended with a gulp as he slashed at a ball from Heath Streak, hoping to bring up his hundred with a third successive boundary.

There had been 14 fours in his 97, which he had scored in 123 balls. After a fairly quiet start in the series - although he thought he had batted well, each of his first three innings ended on 12 - he brought his total runs in this triangular series to 408 at an average of 81.6.

If that is not showing the selectors, the concept needs to be redefined. Not that Stewart would voice any suggestion of contempt. When he was named man of the match and of the series, all he would say was: "It's nice to come back. I hope it cements my place until the next one-day series." He need not worry.

There is a cardboard cut-out quality to most of his public appearances. It's all for one and one for all, and criticism is rejected out of hand. But this time his success had made him comparatively light-headed. He said he had been sleepless on Friday night after he woke at 3.30am and watched New Zealand playing rugby against South Africa. "I'd hoped to read Nasser's book," he said to Hussain sitting next to him. Without it, he couldn't get to sleep again.

He said how pleased he was for the team and supporters before conceding that he had played a part. "I've played very well," he said. That is as close to a boast as you will hear. But the intensity of his feeling for the game always fights its way through the verbiage. Stewart is a proud man, and he will have been intensely pleased that his hundreds helped England to a victory that looked most improbable after the first match of the series.

Hussain believes that two-dimensional cricketers are the essential prerequisite to success. Since two-dimensional cricketers only appear on television or in newspaper pictures, what he means is not quite what he says. But you know what he thinks. "You can't just be a good batter or a good bowler. You need to be able to bat and field or bowl and field," he said on the eve of the final.

For most of this series, Stewart has been a truly three-dimensional figure, a rounded cricketer who kept wicket, scored more runs than any other batsman and captained England for the first four games. For years, experienced commentators have been saying that no cricketer can perform those three roles, and Stewart is disproving them at the advanced age of 37.

He attributes his remarkable survival at the top level to the lessons he learned from his father, Mickey, and Graham Gooch. He works hard before the season to reach a level of fitness he can sustain by playing cricket. "I always enjoy training," he says. Then he adds, almost shyly: "It sounds a bit silly." He says he is a plain eater and doesn't drink much. His eyesight has been tested and is fine.

He is easy to recognise at the crease. In between balls, his bat is twirled compulsively, and he scuffs the edge of the batting crease with his right foot. He stands upright, and when he runs a gentle single, he holds his bat in his left hand, as if he does not want to get it dirty.

Yesterday, his timing was sweet from the very start of his innings, but as his score mounted he seemed to take less and less effort to hit the ball faster and faster to the boundary. It would be wrong to say he caressed the ball because that would emphasise the style rather than the power. Stewart strokes the ball rather, and he does so very hard.

He looks as though he could go on until the 2003 World Cup.

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