Stewart struck on finger again England vice-captain takes another blow and his tour looks to be over

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The Independent Online
Another routine day on the medical front - one crushed digit and a back spasm. Alec Stewart, whose forefinger could have been stuck between two bits of bread and sold as a hot dog here yesterday, is almost certainly out for the rest of this tour, although Graeme Hick's recurring sciatica is unlikely to keep him out of the Adelaide Test on Thursday.

It is not often that a batsman can be said to have been unlucky to get away with a dropped catch, but if Stewart had not been put down at gully yesterday morning, he would not have been around when the next delivery from Simon Cook crunched into the sameright index finger that has already been broken twice on this tour.

The finger was not fractured on this occasion, but Stewart cannot even hold a cup of tea, never mind a bat, and was being more than a touch optimistic when he said that he had not entirely ruled himself out of the fifth and final Test in Perth next week.

Ironically, Stewart had moved down to No 6 in the order to keep his finger away from the new ball, but yesterday's mishap occurred in the second over of the second new ball.

Stewart said the physiotherapist, Dave Roberts, would "have to have a look at it" when he got to Adelaide later today, in which case they will be able compare notes. Roberts is nursing a broken finger of his own, and far from being able to give Neil Fairbrother manipulative treatment on his damaged shoulder tendons, it is all Roberts can do to unscrew the cap on a bottle of aspirins.

As vice-captain, Stewart will remain on tour if only as part of the selection committee, although even this role is beginning to look a touch superfluous, given that England barely have more than 11 fit, or fittish, players to choose from. If either sidehas a Do Not Disturb notice hanging from the selection meeting doorknob, it will be Australia.

Having already retained the Ashes, Australia are seriously considering using one or both of the two remaining Tests to blood a youngster before their imminent tour to the Caribbean, although it is more likely - given that beating England has always been a serious business - that they will look no further than what they consider to be their best XI.

On a stiflingly hot day, Hick was perhaps entitled to a lie down in any event after his 143 on Saturday, his 80th century in first-class cricket. He has three years to eclipse Wally Hammond as the youngest player to 100 hundreds, and if he continues to enjoy the luck he is currently getting, he should knock it off with a couple of years to spare.

Having been dropped twice and survived what appeared to be a thick-edged catch to the wicketkeeper in the Sydney Test, in this innings Hick was dropped on 0 and 13, and got away with yet another umpiring gaffe when he was on 92 on Saturday. Hick actuallystarted to walk when he was caught off bat and pad off the last ball before tea, and his dressing room confession during the interval confirmed Victoria's belief that the umpire in question was in serious need of a hearing aid.

It is just as well, though, that Hick's back is not serious, as in the likely absence of Fairbrother, England are down to six batsmen. Two of them, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, look as though they are batting with nothing wider than a cocktail stick, and Gatting will almost certainly play after scoring 57 runs in the first three Test matches.

Even Devon Malcolm has a better Test average than Gatting in this series, although he can never before have come in with only six wickets down after Stewart was forced to leave the field yesterday. England lost their other four wickets inside the first hour, and ended up with a lead of 82.

Victoria then slid from 127 for 1 to 172 for 5 in their second innings, although England once again let them slip out of the noose in the final hour and a half. Malcolm's response to Keith Fletcher describing him as "too nice" when it came to digging theball in short was to barely land one in the batsman's half of the pitch, which, on a placid strip, was mostly a total waste of energy.

Only the opener, Matthew Elliot, decided to take him on, and this resulted in a top-edged hook to Joey Benjamin at long leg. Benjamin has barely been sighted during this tour, and does not appear to have spent his spare time brushing up his fielding. A ball that spent a good five seconds in the air eventually plopped to earth two yards in front of him, while Benjamin remained as motionless as a Palace guardsman.

Benjamin did not threaten to add to his five first-class wickets on tour, but Tufnell bowled pretty well in a three-hour spell. The Adelaide pitch is expected to turn, and with Shaun Udal already off the tour, all that can now happen for England is for Tufnell to trap his finger in the dressing room door half an hour before the start of the Test match.

(Third day of four: England won toss)

VICTORIA - First Innings 246.

ENGLAND - First Innnings (Overnight: 288 for 5)

A J Stewart retd hurt 37

S J Rhodes c Larkin b Cook 31

P A J DeFreitas c Berry b Reiffel 1

D E Malcolm c Gardiner b Reiffel 11

J E Benjamin lbw b Cook 2

P C R Tufnell not out 0

Extras (b5 lb10 w1 nb6) 22

Total (91.3 overs) 329

Fall (cont): 6-315 7-316 8-321 9-329.

Bowling: Cook 17-3-64-3; Reiffel 23.3-7-63-4; Corbett 19-3-58-1; Harvey 15-6-56-0; Emerson 17-4-73-1.

VICTORIA - Second Innings R P Larkin c Atherton b DeFreitas 27

M T G Elliott st Rhodes b Tufnell 73

*D M Jones c Rhodes b Malcolm 31

B J Hodge not out 63

G B Gardiner b Malcolm 0

I J Harvey c Sub b Tufnell 2

D A Emerson not out 12

Extras (b2 lb7 w1 nb10) 20

Total (for 5, 72 overs) 228

Fall: 1-73 2-127 3-151 4-152 5-172

To bat: P R Reiffel, D S Berry, S H Cook, T R Corbett.

Bowling: Malcolm 20-4-61-2; DeFreitas 16-2-50-1; Tufnell 25-6-64-2; Benjamin 11-2-44-0.

Umpires: D L Holt and R A Emerson.