Stewart has full confidence in Strauss’s England

Former England cricket captain Alec Stewart, flanked by SJA deputy chairman and Sunday Mirror sports editor David Walker (left) and SJA chairman Barry Newcombe, previews the coming Test cricket summer at the latest SJA Ladbrokes Lunch in Fleet Street. Photographs by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

IAN COLE reports from the latest SJA Ladbrokes Lunch, where England’s most capped cricketer Alec Stewart provided his insight into the challenges of the coming Test summer

Alec Stewart, one of Andrew Strauss’s predecessors as England cricket captain, sees the current skipper’s lack of runs as still being some way short of being a crisis for the Test team.

Despite leading England to the No1 position in world cricket, Strauss has not scored a Test century since the opening Ashes clash in Brisbane 18 months ago. And his return to county cricket with Middlesex has produced a string of low scores – not exactly the confidence-builder Strauss was hoping for ahead of next week’s first Test against West Indies at Lord’s.

Even as Stewart, England’s most capped Test cricketer, was digesting his sausage and mash at the latest SJA Ladbrokes Lunch in Fleet Street, news filtered through that Strauss had been dismissed for 2 in Middlesex’s first innings against Notts at Trent Bridge.

“Strauss will be fully aware of the need to score a hundred to prove his worth to the team,” said Stewart. “But he will also know, deep inside, that he is a good player. If you’ve got anything about you, it will show at times when you are struggling.

“I don’t have any issues with England’s batting – even though Strauss has had a poor 12 months. It’s the best batting line-up in the world. Alastair Cook had similar form problems before the Ashes tour. But Cook, who may be quiet but is much tougher than he looks, believed in himself and produced a career-saving innings against Pakistan to secure his tour place.”

Alec Stewart: impressed with England's prospects this summer

If England’s batting makes Stewart purr, the same can be said of the bowling. “I reckon we have the best and the third best bowling attacks in the world.

“By that I mean we have a first choice attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann that is No1. I’d put South Africa at No2, and then England’s second string – Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett, Graham Onions and Monty Panesar – at No3.”

Stewart, who won 133 caps, does not foresee too many problems for England in the forthcoming West Indies series. “They have shown recent signs of improvement but these are difficult times for West Indies cricket. The Board are not running the game as well as they might and they are pretty skint, I believe. They are a long way from Clive Lloyd’s side – possibly the best Test team ever.”

Inevitably, Stewart was keen to talk from a Surrey perspective and was pleased to see Kevin Pietersen making a rare appearance for the county. “I was happy to see KP score a rapid hundred in the IPL last week. But what would delight me even more would be a five-hour century against West Indies at Lord’s.”

Stewart also saw parallels between his own career as a batsman-wicketkeeper and that of England regular Matt Prior. “Like me, Matt has come into the team on the strength of his batting rather than his keeping. Matt has the right mental approach and has spent hours working with Bruce French to become the best batsman-keeper in the world.”

For all his achievements as a cricketer, Stewart remains a fan – especially a football fan. He wears the blue of Chelsea. So he is crowing right now and eagerly awaiting the Champions League Final against Bayern in Munich. It’s hard to believe his first-choice sport is football. “Sadly, I just wasn’t good enough. I could kick people though.

“But how could I regret going into cricket and all the things I achieved for Surrey and England? Of course not.”