Stewart gives England options for rejuvenation

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The Independent Online

Mike Atherton has hinted that England are ready to tear up their World Cup plans and start all over again. That could mean Alec Stewart keeping wicket and Robin Smith replacing his namesake Neil as the captain's opening partner against Pakistan on Sunday. "We are not playing to our potential and must do some experimentation," Atherton admitted.

Stewart, who looks in reasonable form but keeps getting himself out, is the most obvious candidate to face the daunting new-ball attack of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. But Robin Smith, yet to play in the tournament, represents another option, providing he can finally declare himself fit after groin and calf injuries.

Neil Smith's promotion to opener has not worked and it has deprived Atherton of a chance to regain his touch and timing with the opportunity of easy runs at the top of the order against the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.

Robin Smith, a powerful puller and cutter, seems as likely as anyone to take advantage of the 15-over rule when only two fielders are allowed outside the circle.

If England take that route then Stewart will either be dropped, included in the middle order at the expense of Neil Fairbrother, or given the wicketkeeping gloves.

"I think there will be discussion about it," Stewart said when asked whether England would consider using him as wicketkeeper. "I'm happy to do it if that's what is decided. I've probably kept wicket in 30 of our last 40 one-day internationals."

That would be hard on Jack Russell, who has done little wrong, but once again the lack of a genuine all-rounder in the England side could lead the Gloucestershire man being left out.

"Jack had an exceptional tour of South Africa, both keeping and with the bat," Stewart said. "If a change is made, it will be through no fault of his but because the batsmen have not played well enough. "

Stewart has dismayed many with the manner of his dismissals on the tour of South Africa and in this World Cup - with the run out against South Africa probably the worst of the lot.

Normally, the vice-captain can be relied upon to scamper the sort of quick singles that are vital during one-day matches but last Sunday he failed to ground his bat and was run out by Pat Symcox. "It was an elementary mistake," he admitted.

As for the bowling attack, Richard Illingworth seems set to return on Sunday after missing two matches through illness. If Neil Smith plays, Atherton can have three spinners, including Graeme Hick, at his disposal for the first time in the tournament.

Atherton has conceded that he would be "disappointed but not surprised" if failure in the World Cup cost him his job. However, Raymond Illingworth, the England manager, has said that, provided he is still in charge, next summer Atherton will continue as captain no matter what happens between now and then.

World Cup update


GROUP A: West Indies v Kenya (at Nehru stadium, Poona, India). TV: Sky Sports: Highlights 19.00-22.00.

GROUP B: Pakistan v South Africa (at National stadium, Karachi, Pakistan). TV: Sky Sports: Live 03.45-12.00.


GROUP A: Australia v Zimbabwe (at Vidarbha Association ground, Nagpur, India). TV: Sky Sports: Live 03.15-11.30.

GROUP B: Netherlands v UAE (at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, Pakistan). TV: Sky Sports: Live 11.30-17.00.