Pressure mounts on Stewart

By Angus Fraser
Saturday 23 November 2013 02:31
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There have been times in the not too distant past when the England cricket team, following another disappointing performance, would have been quite happy for the game they were playing in to be overshadowed by events surrounding one of our other national sides.

However, being 1-0 up in this series and with the momentum behind them, this week's third Test against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford is not one of them. The match, and the chance it gives England to end the run of four series without a win, would normally have given Nasser Hussain's side the ideal chance to show off to the public, and win their attention, no matter the distractions, for the second half of this sporting summer.

The likely progress of England's football team to the second round of the World Cup, whilst being great for this country's morale, will fail to give Hussain's side much profile whatever the result in Manchester, but it does not prevent this game being a vital one, not just for England and the selectors, but also for a couple of their players.

Anything but a series win for England will be seen as a failure. A defeat at Old Trafford and a drawn series would raise further doubts of the selection policy, which at the start of this summer, when it was decided to go for experience rather than youth, appeared to be win at all costs. Changes for this game were not expected and the only alteration to the 14 announced for the Edgbaston Test was to reduce the squad to 13.

Dominic Cork, of Derbyshire, was the sole casualty and while it has proved hazardous to write off such a competitive player, it is tempting to think, that for him, even with another Lord's Test just around the corner, this is the end of his international road.

Cork, who was one of three cautious selections made in May, could well have had his last opportunity to impress but he has not been the only player under pressure for his place. Alec Stewart, who will definitely play, and John Crawley, who is likely to play instead of the injured Mark Butcher, are the other two, and both are in need of a good performance to lift the doubters off their backs.

Each has a younger player breathing down his neck. Stewart has James Foster, the Essex wicketkeeper, and Crawley Ian Bell, the Warwickshire batsman. Foster, who performed well enough during the winter tours to be awarded a central contract, is returning to fitness after breaking an arm. He will be fit to play in England's next Test match against India on 25 July. Bell may not be in the best of form, but has a quality about him and deserves the next chance should one arise.

Such potential repercussions should ensure England's minds are focused on a red ball and not distracted by the white and gold ones being kicked about in Asia.

ENGLAND SQUAD (Third Test v Sri Lanka, Thursday, Old Trafford): N Hussain (capt), M E Trescothick, M P Vaughan, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, A J Stewart (wkt), A Flintoff, A F Giles, A J Tudor, A R Caddick, M J Hoggard, S P Jones.

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