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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Alec Stewart: Still at the crease
At 39, England cricketer Alec Stewart shows no sign of quitting

Alec Stewart's re-emergence on the international cricket scene is just the latest twist in a roller-coaster career which has seen him make the headlines on the front and back pages.
The tumultuous reception which greeted Alec Stewart as he strode to the crease on the opening day of the first England-India Test match attests to his status as one of his country's favourite cricketers.

A full house at Lord's rose to its feet to welcome Stewart, now England's most-capped player, on the occasion of his 119th Test match. Not bad for a man who had initially set himself a target of 25 appearances.

Alec Stewart at his 119th Test match
Alec Stewart: Cheered to the crease
His captain, Nasser Hussain, was generous in his praise for the veteran wicket-keeper and batsman.

"To go past one of his all-time heroes in Graham Gooch - and do it at Lord's with that ovation - just shows what the country and his team-mates, for that matter, think of him," Hussain said.

Although Stewart was bitterly disappointed to score only 19 runs in the first innings at Lord's, the milestone which he achieved there was clearly significant.

Stewart's long test career, stretching some 12 years, has had its ups and downs - and more than a few controversies.

Indeed, if his rival for the England stumper's gloves, James Foster of Essex, had not broken his arm, it is doubtful whether Stewart would have reached this present landmark.

But, today, he can look forward not only to participating in this winter's Ashes tour to Australia, but also to playing for England in the cricket World Cup, to be held in South Africa next February.

First-choice keeper

Alec James Stewart was born in Surrey in 1963. Coached by his father, Micky, himself a former Surrey captain and England Test batsman, the younger Stewart made his debut for the county at the age of 18.

Alec Stewart's father, Micky
Micky Stewart nurtured Alec's talent
Though a prolific run-maker in the County Championship - he scored 1,000 runs a season for five years on the trot - he was passed over for England selection throughout the 1980s.

Stewart's first foray onto the Test stage - which he considers his most nervous moment in international cricket - came in Jamaica in 1990. The same match saw Nasser Hussain's first England appearance too.

Cynics commented that Stewart only made the England team because his father was its coach.

The following year, due to his superior skill as a batsman, he took over as wicket-keeper from the singular Jack Russell, effectively ending the Gloucestershire keeper's Test career.

I leave nothing to chance in my preparation

Alec Stewart
Since then, Stewart has batted through much of the England order. Although often criticised as not being a natural opening batsman, his pairing with Michael Atherton became the definitive opening partnership of the 1990s.

Even so, it should not be forgotten that the first of Stewart's 15 Test centuries came when he was batting at number six.

More than 7,500 Test runs - at an average of nearly 40 an innings - combined with a tally at the start of the Lord's Test of 229 catches and 12 stumpings, place him in the first rank of international cricketers.

He was also the world's leading Test run scorer during the 1990s.

Under a cloud

But there have also been a number of hair-raising moments. After six series, he has yet to be on an Ashes-winning side.

Alec Stewart and Mike Atherton
Prolific partnership: Stewart and Atherton
He was famously fined for dissent against Australia at the Oval in 2001 and in the mid-1990s he broke his finger three times in nine months.

But all of this pales into insignificance beside the major crisis of his career.

In November 2000, with the cricket world rocked by allegations of match-fixing, an Indian bookmaker alleged that he had paid Stewart for supplying him with information.

Stewart, who strenuously denied the charge, had to wait a considerable time before the International Cricket Council cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Training is all

Alec Stewart at the crease is a sight to behold: forever twitching, fidgeting and blinking in an arcane set of rituals and mannerisms familiar to spectators from Manchester to Melbourne.

England coach Duncan Fletcher with Alec Stewart
The England coach puts Stewart through his paces
And, from behind the stumps, Stewart's frequent exhortations to England bowlers - "well bowled, Crofty", "well bowled, Cat" - are well-known to every lover of the sport.

If, as some say, genius is an infinite ability to take pains, the secret of Stewart's success is obvious.

"I leave nothing to chance in my preparation, whether it be in the way I train in the nets, the fielding and wicket-keeping sessions I do or the fitness levels I try and maintain," he has said.

"My desire to be successful as an individual and for the team are also very high, and I never give up no matter the situation."

Though he is a venerable 39, Stewart's career may still have a few surprises left. And, when he finally decides to hang up his bat and gloves, surely a high-level management role awaits.

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25 Jul 02 | England
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