Stewart transforms England's middle order

By Angus Fraser
Sunday 26 January 2014 04:11
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The best one-day sides in cricket have the greatest flexibility. This does not mean that some members of the team can touch their noses with their toes, it is simply the way the team can alter their game-plan in response to the ever-changing circumstances of a match.

In order to have this flexibility, the players within these teams have to be adaptable. They need to be able to bowl and bat in more than one way. In the same way that a tennis player changes his tactics according to the surface he is playing on and comes to the net or stays at the back of the court dependent on the differing styles of an opponent, so must a one-day cricketer.

There has been some scintillating cricket played so far in this NatWest Series, but nowhere have the benefits of such versatility been more apparent than in the batting of England's middle to lower order.

The unlikeliest figure to appear in this area of England's batting line-up, coming in anywhere between No 5 and No 8, is their most experienced performer, Alec Stewart. Watching Stewart – who will make his 150th one-day appearance for England against India at Chester-le-Street today – walk to the crease at the fall of the sixth wicket seems strange, having watched him open the batting for most his career.

The difference between opening and coming in at No 8 is huge. As an opener you set up the game and as a middle-order player you are looked on to finish the game, pace the run chase correctly and take your side to victory. It is a testament to Stewart's professionalism that he is managing to change his game to fit the occasion.

The three innings the Surrey stalwart has so far played in this series have been different. The first at Trent Bridge, when he came in with England precariously placed at 104 for 4, was a responsible, can't afford to get out, but can't let the runs dry up affair. His 83 was the main reason for England's good score.

At Lord's, against India, he entered the fray with England well positioned. Stewart did not come through this scenario as well – slogging in the innings' last 10 overs is not his forté – and England lost the game because they failed to make the most of the position they were in.

Realising his problem, he then set about correcting the situation with the England coach Duncan Fletcher. Stewart, talking about his work with Fletcher, said: "I'm 39 and still learning. It's great to have someone like Duncan who can spot things and help someone as experienced as me."

He went on to say: "On Monday I had a good chat with Duncan. He gave me a few tips about batting down the order, when the ball is reverse swinging and the opposition are trying to bowl full. He told me where and how to try and hit the ball. I practised it in the nets with him behind me and it helped me in my innings on Tuesday."

Stewart's uncharacteristic innings, and his partnership with Paul Collingwood, who will today become the first Durham player to play for England in front of his home crowd, sealed an excellent victory.

Who says you cannot teach an old dog new tricks and England may need to find a couple more today if they are to see off an unbeaten Indian side.

ENGLAND: N Hussain (Essex, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), N V Knight (Warwickshire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), P D Collingwood (Durham), A Flintoff (Lancashire), R C Irani (Essex), A F Giles (Warwickshire), D Gough (Yorkshire), R J Kirtley (Sussex).

INDIA: S C Ganguly (capt), V Sehwag, D Mongia, S R Tendulkar, R Dravid (wkt), Yuvraj Singh, M Kaif, A B Agarkar, A Kumble, A Nehra, Z Khan.

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