Stewart accepts dual role with reluctance

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BY JON CULLEY

Alec Stewart, again saddled with a dual responsibility as England continue to find the nation's specialist wicketkeepers want- ing, insisted last night that he could successfully combine the two roles in tomorrow's opening first Test - but made it clear that he was not happy being strung along by indecisive selectors.

Stewart will probably bat at five as well as taking the gloves in the opening encounter with the West Indies, but after agreeing to give up his preferred position as the opening partner to Mike Atherton, the England vice-captain feels the least he deserves in return is to know where he stands beyond the five days in Leeds.

"If it had been my choice, I would have opened the batting," Stewart said. "My record as an opener is reasonable. But at the end of the day no player is bigger than the team and you accept the role you are given.

"But I will have to talk to the selectors about their long-term plans. I've been given no indication so far about whether this is a short or a long-term thing.

"If I'm in the 11, I'm happy. I'll do whatever is best for the team. But you must have a set plan, a set order and stick to it. It is no good trying to open in one match and then come in lower down in the next."

Whether Stewart can be granted his wish for a clear statement from the England manager and chairman of selectors, Ray Illingworth, seems doubtful at this stage. Illingworth has said that "a lot will depend on whether we can get an all-rounder to come through in the No 6 spot."

If Illingworth comes down in favour of giving Stewart the whole summer in the role, there may be consequences for Graham Kersey, currently keeping wicket for Stewart's county, Surrey.

Stewart said: "I have not kept wicket in a first-class game for Surrey since last season and our current keeper has been batting and keeping wicket well. But if this role is to be a long-term thing then we will have to act accordingly."

The strongest argument voiced against Stewart keeping wicket in Test matches is that it has a detrimental effect on his form with the bat. He believes this is becoming less valid, although he feels it would be unwise as wicketkeeper to try to open in a Test, a function he has performed twice before, during the tour of Pakistan in 1992 and in India the following year.

"It is impossible to open and keep wicket. It is much more tiring to stand behind the stumps than to be in the field and 10 minutes between taking off your wicketkeeper's pads and strapping on your batting gear is not enough time to gather your thoughts and mentally prepare for an innings.

"But there is no reason why you should not be successful doing both things coming in lower down the order. The last five times I have kept wicket and batted in the middle order I have done OK."

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