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Stewart's talents not maximised

By Donald Trelford

14 April 1998

ENGLAND were defeated but not disgraced in the Caribbean - so, at least, runs the current theory. It is a mark of how low our expectations have become that we can take any comfort at all from losing the Test series 3-1 and the one-day internationals 4-1 against the weakest West Indian side for two or three decades.

With the new season under way this week, English cricket can draw little encouragement from the winter tour. No new class performers have emerged. The successes - Alec Stewart, Angus Fraser and Mark Ramprakash - are aged 35, 32 and 28.

Stewart is now one of the world's leading all-rounders, yet he kept wicket only in the one-day series in which (from what I saw in St Vincent) he was in better form with the gloves than Jack Russell had been earlier in the tour.

Most selection meetings, I gather, were devoted to the Stewart/Russell dilemma. The burning Caribbean heat was a factor, but not the only one, in the failure to maximise the Surrey man's all-round talents.

Michael Atherton wanted to open the batting with him, and as captain his word carried weight. More worrying, however, was the reported insistence of Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe that they would only bat at Nos 4 and 5 respectively.

I was puzzled throughout the tour that Hussain did not come in first wicket down, where he performed so successfully against Australia last season. This threw John Crawley and Mark Butcher into the deep end, where neither of them had the consistency required. The failure to select Nick Knight was cruelly exposed later.

If best use was to be made of Stewart, the batting line-up had to be flexible, so that he had the option of dropping down the order after a long day in the field.

Hussain's best position, admittedly, may be at No 4, and Thorpe's at 5, but the team's needs must be paramount. That his batsmen could dictate to Atherton in this way suggests that, even after more than 50 Tests, he lacked the authority wielded by some of his predecessors.

When he was dithering over the captaincy last season, I suggested he should hand over the reins for a season or two to Stewart with the possibility of returning when he had refreshed himself and attended to his own batting. Now, alas, it is too late for a second coming.

Adam Hollioake has clearly not advanced his claims to the senior captaincy after the emphatic defeats in the one-day series, but I sincerely hope that a separate captain will be retained for the World Cup. As I said at the time, we should have used Dermot Reeve in the last one.

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Date-stamped : 14 Apr1998 - 12:23