May 17, 2003

Stewart keeps his place as Anderson, Kirtley and McGrath called up

Alec Stewart, England's most-capped player, retained his place in England's 13-man squad for the first Test against Zimbabwe, which starts at Lord's on Thursday (May 22). Lancashire's James Anderson comes in for his Test debut, and there is also a first call-up for Anthony McGrath, the Yorkshire batsman, and Sussex fast bowler James Kirtley.

Stewart may have turned 40 in April, but he has played in 126 Tests, scoring 8187 runs and making 260 dismissals. He recently suggested that he shouldn't be considered for England's one-day team any more, but made no such pronouncement about his Test career. Worries over the fitness of Andy Flintoff - he missed the latest round of Championship matches with a shoulder problem - probably helped Stewart to survive ahead of a clutch of highly rated young keepers, such as Chris Read, James Foster and Geraint Jones.

The surprise name among the batsmen is McGrath, 27, who was tipped for stardom as a young player - he toured Pakistan with England A under Nasser Hussain's captaincy in 1995-96 - but more recently has been something of an underachiever. But this season he was appointed as Yorkshire's captain, when Darren Lehmann decided to have a year off, and has made an impressive start. He can also fill in with a few overs of medium-pace, and with Craig White and Paul Collingwood also unfit, this was crucial. David Graveney, England's chairman of selectors, explained: "Our chief medical officer will continue to monitor the situation with Andrew Flintoff and we are hopeful that he will recover in time for the Test match. We discussed at length the type of player that we would need as cover for Andrew and we have gone for Anthony McGrath as a batsman who can share the role of fifth bowler with Mark Butcher."

McGrath was predictably pleased: "I was surprised and delighted to get the call from David Graveney. I think I have been in good form this season so far and played pretty well without getting a really big score. I'm enjoying being Yorkshire captain and I'm really looking forward to joining up with England next week."

Robert Key retains his place ahead of John Crawley and young hopefuls like Bilal Shafayat and Owais Shah. Graveney said: "We feel that Robert is very much part of England's future. But we would stress that John Crawley has not let England down in the past and he has certainly not been removed from our future plans."

A Test call completes an amazing year for Anderson, who was playing for his club, Burnley, at this time last year. But his consistent form since being called up for England's one-day squad in Australia, plus injuries to Darren Gough (hamstring) and Andy Caddick (foot ligaments), made his selection for Lord's a formality. A hat-trick against Essex earlier this week - including Hussain as the middle victim - didn't do him any harm either.

Caddick's absence also allows room for Kirtley, 28. He's a skiddy fast-medium bowler from Sussex whose whippy action has attracted the scrutiny of the ICC in the past, in the course of nine ODIs for England, in which he has claimed seven wickets - and one amazing one-handed diving catch, to dismiss Sourav Ganguly at Lord's last year. Graveney explained: "He has been in good form for Sussex this season. He fully deserves a chance in the longer form of the international game. We did not consider Chris Silverwood, Richard Johnson or Alex Tudor as replacements for Andy Caddick because they are all carrying injuries at present."

If Flintoff is fit to play, McGrath is likely to carry the drinks, with one of the pace bowlers standing down as well unless the overcast weather continues. In that case Ashley Giles might miss out - no England spinner has taken a wicket in the three Lord's Tests played in May since 2000.

Whatever the final selection, England will start as favourites for the Test, the first of a two-match series. Following a spate of retirements after the World Cup, Zimbabwe have only one player (Grant Flower) who has scored a Test century, and there are fitness doubts about Heath Streak, their captain and main strike bowler. The only other time these two sides met in a Test at Lord's, in 2000, England won by an innings early on the fourth day. Ed Giddins (remember him?) took 5 for 15 and 2 for 27 as the ball zigged and zagged on a helpful early-season pitch.

England's 13 for Lord's: Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain (capt), Robert Key, Anthony McGrath, Alec Stewart (wk), Andrew Flintoff, Ashley Giles, James Kirtley, James Anderson, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison.

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