Stewart may miss rest of West Indies series

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The Independent Online

Alec Stewart, indispensable to England until Old Trafford, will not be available at Trent Bridge next week, and quite possibly not at The Oval on 24 August either.

His right index finger, which has been broken three times in nine months, is proving less keen to return to face the West Indies than its owner, who had an X-ray on it yesterday. "Although the break is healing it is not yet 100 per cent," Stewart said before pulling out of today's County Championship match against Kent, which he had hoped to use as a proving ground for his fitness.

The news comes as no surprise to Raymond Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, who is by no means convinced that Stewart will be fit enough to play in the sixth Test. "We really want him to get the finger right now and then play for Surrey for a week or 10 days to make sure everything is OK," he said.

If England's selectors stick to that timetable, Stewart's chances of making The Oval look bleak. He plans to play next when Surrey seconds meet Hampshire seconds at Southampton on 21 August - just three days before the Test. If he has been able to bat without discomfort in the nets before then, however, England might still consider him.

In the meantime, Stewart's finger leaves England with a headache. He would have been the logical replacement for Robin Smith, out for the season with the depressed fracture of the cheekbone he suffered at Old Trafford. Now, though, England have to decide between returning swiftly to the jettisoned Graeme Hick, switching back to the once-tried and unlucky Jason Gallian - now recovered from his broken finger, allowing themselves to be convinced that Mark Ramprakash's weight of runs and talent must at some stage make the breakthrough at the top level, or recalling an old sweat who likes it tough, such as Allan Lamb.