Stewart sitting pretty

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The Independent Online
It was hardly the Little Big Horn but, surrounded as Alec Stewart was by Indians and with his Test career on the line, Lord's certainly could be viewed as the scene of his last stand. Having been dropped for the First Test, he had made the team only by default for the second after Nick Knight - the preferred opening partner for the England captain, Mike Atherton - was pronounced unfit.

With challengers of the quality of Knight and even the prolific and highly talented Surrey opener Mark Butcher (like Knight a left-hander), there was a feeling that Stewart's England days could be numbered in single figures.

This was heightened when his gutsy two-hour battle in the first innings ended with what many felt was poor footwork and an insufficient number of runs (20) to guarantee future selection.

So yesterday's knock assumed far greater importance for the 33-year-old Stewart. It was understandably edgy early on as well, but Lord's is where a significant proportion of Stewart's best Test innings have been made. It is his home turf, in England terms. Of the 24 occasions he has passed 50 for his country, seven of those have been in Tests at HQ. His unbeaten 65 took his runs tally in Tests at Lord's to 818 and lifted him into the all-time top 10 of leading England batsmen there.

It was hard work in the face of some high-class bowling, notably by Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, made even more difficult with the loss of Atherton and then Nasser Hussain, but no one can ever fault Stewart's application and discipline.

While his one-day form with the bat for county and country has been fine, things have not gone quite so smoothly at first-class level. So while Stewart battled yesterday for England, he was also having to bat his way back into good nick.

As the balls arrowed in towards his stumps, the Surrey captain parried, deflected and otherwise evaded the missiles, everyone of them potentially fatal to his future prospects with England.

But if he has been close to desperation during this Test, contemplating the possibility that it may be his last, there was no sign on his impassive face as he got his head down and pulled England up. If he makes it into three figures today, he may well earn himself a stay of execution. But Custer didn't.

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