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  Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Stewart's Old Trafford love affair
Alec Stewart kisses his helmet
Ever the patriot, Stewart celebrates his ton

Alec Stewart's 15th Test century almost certainly ensured England's first series victory since they last took on Sri Lanka 18 months ago.

And it confirmed once again his capacity for rising to the occasion.

Stewart celebrated a record equalling 118th Test cap with a 124-ball century, reaching three figures with his fourth successive boundary off Dilhara Fernando.

The 39-year-old punched the air with both hands, and performed the obligatory kiss of the helmet as the Manchester crowd applauded.

Before this match, critics had been pointing to his 40 runs in three innings of the series so far as final, cast-iron proof that it was time finally to bring in a younger wicketkeeper.

But Stewart demonstrated a Graeme Hick-like ability to make runs when it matters,

His name will now be firmly in the selectors' thoughts ahead of the four-Test series with India, whatever their convictions about the worth of youth.

Spin ability

Stewart got off to a flying start on the second day, with Surrey team-mate Mark Butcher for company, punishing Sri Lanka's pacemen with some lightning cross-bat shots in reaching a 61-ball half-century.

Butcher's demise saw Sri Lankan tails rise, but Stewart was found up to the task of taking on Muttiah Muralitharan, despite his much-discussed weakness against spin.

  Test runs at Old Trafford
(Inns, runs, average)
DCS Compton 13, 818, 81.80
MA Atherton 18, 729, 40.50
AJ Stewart 14, 704, 58.67
GA Gooch 15, 568, 37.87
ER Dexter 10, 544, 54.40
The run rate dropped, but Stewart got his pad well outside off-stump to the unorthodox spinner, facing 105 balls, and making 41 runs, including six boundaries, before finally being dismissed bat-pad.

Muralitharan has described Old Trafford as a home from home but, despite his Chelsea affiliations, Stewart must be growing equally fond of the area of Manchester more commonly associated with footballing dominance.

On Saturday he moved to third in the list of highest Test run-scorers at the venue, passing Ken Barrington and Len Hutton in the tally, with an average higher than both.

The milestone celebration this time around brought back memories of the scenes at the ground two years ago, when Stewart marked his 100th Test with a trip into three figures against the West Indies.

Lancastrian team-mate Michael Atherton described the reception Stewart received on that occasion as the warmest he had heard for a southerner.

But then Stewart had endeared himself to the local faithful two years earlier, making an epic 164 to help salvage a draw having been forced to follow on by South Africa.

That match turned the tour around, handing Stewart his first and only series victory as skipper.

"Stewart┐s defiant 164, lasting seven hours, was an astonishing performance from someone carrying so much responsibility," that year's Wisden records.

The following year, time ran out before he could reach three figures in a depressing, rain-hit draw with New Zealand.

Focussed

Coincidentally that series, after he had been relieved of the captaincy in 1999, was the first time the selectors had mooted a younger alternative behind the stumps, in Nottinghamshire's Chris Read.

Hashan Tillekaratne celebrates his catch
Stewart was finally caught on 123 at silly point
Old Trafford has not always been a happy venue for Stewart, though.

He struggled for runs in four Tests prior to that meeting with South Africa, not managing to top 30 in six innings.

And his captaincy, standing in for the injured Nasser Hussain, was criticised as unimaginative when Pakistan snatched a victory last year, previewing a disappointing Ashes summer.

But Stewart is a practical man; he will not be bothered by stats or memories.

His mind is clearly fixed on the two things he can do most about - saving the series for England and extending his Test career for at least one more series.

All the reports from the Test match

Day Five

Day Four

Day Three

Day Two

Day One

MATCH STATS

TEST MATCH SPECIAL

HAVE YOUR SAY

PLAYER PROFILES
See also:

10 Jun 02 | England
29 Apr 02 | England
29 Jul 00 | Cricket

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