McGrath - Stewart, 2004

England Players in 2003 - part 4 of 5

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5

Anthony McGrath (Yorkshire)
McGrath's selection for the First Test against Zimbabwe in May fell into the category marked "hunch". Like Vaughan and Trescothick before him, McGrath's domestic record was modest - his first-class batting average for Yorkshire was barely 30 - but the hunch seemed to pay off when his first two Tests brought him two gutsy half-centuries and three bonus wickets with his apologetic dobbers. But he failed to dominate even against Zimbabwe, or take the chance to convert his starts into centuries. And the doubts about his capacity against stronger attacks grew when he was promoted from No. 7 in the Test side to No. 4 in the one-day team: one half-century in nine NatWest innings was hardly compelling. He was bounced out by Dewald Pretorious in the Edgbaston Test, and dropped after two failures at Lord's. But McGrath continued to be picked for one-day squads, suggesting coach Duncan Fletcher had not given up on this hunch yet.
2003: 4 Tests: 201 runs @ 40.20; 4 wickets @ 14.00.
10 ODI: 143 runs @ 20.42; 2 wickets @ 63.00.

Chris Read (Nottinghamshire)
For most of the year, and without a hint of arrogance, Read oozed the conviction that right here, right now, this was his time. Not even an untimely broken finger could stop his second coming as an England player more than three years after his first and, after a classily unobtrusive display in the one-day games at home, there were some loud calls for him to gatecrash Stewart's farewell summer as a Test player. He eventually filled the biggest gloves in English cricket for the tour of the subcontinent. Then the problems began. Read's wicket-keeping remained tidy but, in this Gilchristian age, that was not enough. Despite a feisty willingness to counter-attack, his output with the bat was minimal. By the end of the Sri Lanka series he had been demoted to No. 8, a vulnerable position for a modern wicket-keeper.
2003: 5 Tests: 125 runs @ 20.83; 15 catches, 2 stumpings.
14 ODI: 84 runs @ 21.00; 21 catches.

Martin Saggers (Kent)
It was all over in a flash. When Flintoff had to withdraw from the Test series in Bangladesh, Saggers replaced him, though he was a very different kind of player: no batsman and a pitch-kissing swing bowler. He got his chance to play in Chittagong, and even got to lead England off the field - albeit for some spectacular fielding - before flying home less than a month after his arrival. But as holiday souvenirs go, his Test bowling average was not bad, even if that did only represent three Bangladeshi wickets.
2003: 1 Test: 1 run @ 1.00; 3 wickets @ 20.66.

Owais Shah (Middlesex)
His chances were limited, but Shah did little to persuade the selectors that he could yet rise above talented-underachiever status. His preferred mode of dismissal during the VB Series - one lazy chip against the spinners after another - hardly helped, and by the time the English summer arrived, he had slipped out of sight.
2003: 2 ODI: 47 runs @ 23.50.

Ed Smith (Kent)
At the start of the summer, Smith would not have made an England C team, but after an outrageous run of form for Kent - five centuries in six Championship innings in July - he was picked to face South Africa, amid more focus on his double-first from Cambridge University than his batting. He began with a stylish 64, but he soon reminded some observers of another Cambridge man, Crawley, as he began to struggle outside off stump. When he failed on the belting pitch at The Oval, his time seemed up, though the selectors did offer the winter sweetener of an England A place.
2003: 3 Tests: 87 runs @ 17.40.

Vikram Solanki (Worcestershire)
Solanki's second coming as a one-day batsman was a typically infuriating mixture of wrist and waste. More than three years after the most recent of his eight one-day internationals, Solanki made a solid start against Pakistan, before producing a string of innings that were either all or nothing, but more usually nothing. There was a sparkling, if vulnerable, hundred against South Africa at The Oval, and an enterprising half-century at Lord's, but otherwise Solanki's shot-selection was as flawed as it had been on the tour to southern Africa in 1999-2000. In the field, he could be electric at backward point, but it was his inconsistency with the bat that stood out. In 13 innings, he failed to pass 12 on nine occasions, and three failures in Bangladesh, of all places, looked like the final straw.
2003: 13 ODI: 277 runs @ 23.08.

Alec Stewart (Surrey)
Stewart could hardly have scripted the end to his England career any better: draped in the Cross of St George, on his home ground, celebrating an England victory. But for much of the year he had to fight for his right to party. There was a serious clamour on more than one occasion for him to abdicate his role behind the stumps in favour of Read. He began the year with the last of the great Stewart cameos: a delightful 86-ball 71 that was central to England's victory at Sydney. He could not resist one last summer of Test cricket, but before that he found a new lease of life in one-day cricket: pushed back up to No. 4 or 5 in the World Cup, he contributed strongly in three of his four innings. Stewart hung up his pyjamas after that, and following a self-satisfying performance against Zimbabwe, announced that the South African series would be his last. The knives were out when he made seven and nought in England's heavy defeat at Lord's, but a vital 72 in England's win at Trent Bridge - combined with largely immaculate glovework all year - secured his big farewell. There was no fairytale century, though, and Stewart's average rested at a tantalising 39.54. At long last, England had lost their only world-class all-rounder since the retirement of Ian Botham - just as the nation hailed the arrival of another in Flintoff.
2003: 8 Tests: 385 runs @ 35.00; 21 catches, 1 stumping.
11 ODI: 287 runs @ 28.70; 12 catches, 2 stumpings.

© John Wisden & Co