August 4, 2000

Stewart's durability continues to astound

Cornhill Insurance

On the day that Britain was celebrating the Queen Mother's hundredth birthday, Alec Stewart had his own way of joining in the celebrations. The day brought personal glory for him as he gave unflinching service to the England team in the third Test and then referring to the Grand Old Lady, remarked:" She has been brilliant."

It took a man whose durability, at the highest level of the game, continues to astound, to arrest an alarming England collapse and regain the initiative which another abiding stalwart, had seized earlier for West Indies.

Half way through the second session of play on the second day, the focus was on two 37-year olds; first on Courtney Walsh for an inspired spell of fast bowling and then on Alec Stewart for countering the West Indies' attack.

Stewart, the veteran, in his hundredth Test match then held the stage with Marcus Trescothick, the debutant, to bring about a marvellous recovery and then to go on and place England firmly in a position of strength.

His meritorious 14th. Test century, on such a memorable occasion came at a vital time for England, after Walsh had reduced the innings to 17 for three. His first seven overs were maidens with the last of those producing wickets in successive balls.

Stewart's innings, of great distinction, puts him in the company of three other renowned batsmen who achieved the milestone of reaching the three figures in their hundredth Test. Sir Colin Cowdrey did so against Australia at Edgbaston in 1968, Javed Miandad against India in Lahore in the 1989-90 season and in that same season Gordon Greenidge scored against England in the Caribbean.

While Trescothick provided staunch support to his senior partner, Stewart gave an entertaining display with masterful shots. It was not a case of steadying the innings with defensive, dour batting but, indeed, one of aggressive and attractive stroke-play. His fifty came from only 63 balls and the second fifty was not much slower, from 73. More than half his runs were from boundaries as he played his shots with great confidence.

He was particularly severe on two bowlers, Reon King conceding six an over and Franklyn Rose going for nearly five. He showed little regard for the bowling, as he approached his hundred, he powerfully pulled Walsh to the mid-wicket boundary to reach 96, then took a single. In the next over, from Curtly Ambrose, he ran two to mid-on and then pushed the next ball for a quick single to mid-off for that historical run which brought the well entertained sell-out crowd to its feet to give the hero a very long standing ovation.

While Stewart's strokes were stylish and perfectly timed, Trescothick, who was dropped on three at square-leg, was no less fluent although scoring at a slower rate. But his role had become more of support while Stewart forged ahead. The two ended the day in an unbroken 179-run partnership which puts England 39 runs ahead with seven first innings wickets remaining.

Earlier, England's bowlers had done excellent work in dismissing West Indies for 157 shortly after lunch with Dominic Cork taking four for 23 and Andy Caddick three for 45.