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The Electronic Telegraph Warm-up match: England v Essex
Michael Henderson at Chelmsford - 9 May 1999

One more dark day for Stewart

England (229-7) bt Essex (228-9) by one run

The day dawned bright for Alec Stewart yesterday but, with the passing of each hour, it became progressively darker until, as six bells tolled, it was pitch black.

Essex batsman Tim Walton is bowled England's Mark Ealham for a duck

The last thing the England captain needed in the second of these World Cup warm-up matches was another failure while Nasser Hussain succeeded for Essex, and yet, so limitless is this game's capacity for embarrassment, that is what came to pass.

It could have been even more embarrassing, as the winning margin reveals. Essex, propelled towards a victory target of 230 by Hussain and Stuart Law, needed 10 from the last over and, 10 drawn-out minutes later, when Vince Wells completed it, they were a single short of a tie.

The fact that Wells was the bowler, having been ignored hitherto, suggests that the captain was not fully in control of his ship. It was a puzzling end to the match, and England do not want puzzles at this stage. They want certainty.

Hussain, released for the day to lead Essex against his team-mates, opened the innings at the request of the England management and made 82 before he slogged a catch to midwicket. He may have felt he had a point to prove, as the man on the outside looking in, and that is where he will remain in spite of this modest success. As things stand, the other batsmen will have to play particularly poorly, or suffer an injury, to let him in.

Short of runs as he is, Stewart will start the World Cup as Nick Knight's partner. After that, who knows? There can be no getting round the fact that things are getting serious for him.

The World Cup begins on Friday when England play Sri Lanka, the holders, at Lord's and their captain cannot buy a score for love or money. At a time when he needs runs to maintain his self-respect, as much as anything else, he is struggling like a novice and the team is robbed of authority.

It is now 18 matches since he went past fifty in a one-day international, a sequence that takes in the triangular tournament in Australia and the recent competition in Sharjah. In the two county games England have played as a prelude to the World Cup, he has made four and 18. The knowledge that he got a decent ball yesterday from Mark Ilott, which took his edge, will not console him.

Stewart has endured the commitments of the past year without complaint. Indeed, he admits to feeling good in the middle and disappointment has not stopped him talking a good game. Perhaps it takes outsiders to spot that he has aged visibly in the last six months and that he can no longer undertake three jobs. If he thinks he can, he will end up doing none of them and rather sooner than he imagines.

It took a sound innings by Graham Thorpe to provide a decent total after the first three wickets went down for 29. Knight, who is also desperately short of runs, offered a slip catch and, in the next over, Graeme Hick was neatly taken by the same catcher, Law, who does not miss a great deal. It was 59 for four when Andrew Flintoff was judged lbw. On another day, he would have survived the shout.

In the absence of Neil Fairbrother, who was given the day off, Thorpe bore responsibility for the recovery. He duly completed his second half-century in successive innings and had made 88 when he lifted a catch to long-off. At least one player is in good nick. Mark Ealham, who consistently punches his weight, supplied some good runs in the closing overs, enabling England to reach a total perhaps 15 runs short of par.

Ealham's work did not end there. Although he went for 30 runs in his first five overs, as Hussain and Law were adding 120 for the second wicket, he returned with notable success, taking four for nine. The first and most important wicket was that of Law, who skied one to mid-on, and after his dismissal Essex lost their nerve until Stephen Peters and Barry Hyam decided to adopt a bold course. England triumphed at the last. It is just as well.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk