Stewart's 57 helps confound his critics

 

CRICKET: Alec Stewart delighted in confounding predictions about the impending end to his international career and presented England's hierarchy with a selection dilemma in the final Test against Sri Lanka. Recalled to the side at the start of the series only after James Foster injured his arm, Stewart has performed adequately in the previous two Tests without producing a major score to put the selectors under pressure.

But just as critics began writing Stewart's Test cricket obituary, he delivered a battling half-century on the rain-hit second day against Sri Lanka. His unbeaten 57, which included a half-century off only 61 deliveries, included nine boundaries. His efforts also helped England, who had resumed on 273 for four, stabilise their innings after three wickets fell in a 21-over spell which threatened their hopes of posting a formidable first-innings total.

Early morning rain prevented any play before 2 p.m., forcing Mark Butcher into an anxious wait in the dressing room to resume his innings unbeaten on 85. When play started Butcher quickly accumulated the 15 runs required, reaching three figures only seven overs after the start.

He can thank South African official Dave Orchard for failing to pass 123, who adjudged him leg before to a Chaminda Vaas delivery which appeared to be bouncing over the top of the stumps just seven overs after taking the new ball. It brought his productive partnership with Stewart to an end after they had added 92 in 17 overs.

Andrew Flintoff dismissal forced Stewart into a more conservative approach, knowing England could ill afford the loss of further wickets having slipped to 361 for six when their sights were set on a post-500 total at the start of the day.

Forced to play defensively, Stewart and Alex Tudor added only 15 in the next 10 overs until they accepted an offer for bad light just after 5.30 p.m. much to the further annoyance of the crowd before play was halted for the day by another downpour 20 minutes later.

ENGLAND

First innings (overnight: 273-4)

Trescothick c Jayawardene b Muralitharan81

M. Vaughan c Vaas b Fernando36

M. Butcher lbw b Vaas123

N. Hussain c Muralitharan b Fernando16

G. Thorpe c Sangakkara b Upashantha32

A. Stewart not out 57

A. Flintoff run out1

A. Tudor not out6

Extras (b5, lb8 nb12)25

Total (6wkts, 100 overs, 435 mins)377

Fall of wickets: 1-66, 2-192, 3-219, 4-262, 5-354, 6-361.

To bat: A Giles, A Caddick, M Hoggard.

Bowling: Vaas 28-7-73-1 (2nb); Upashantha 8-0-65-1 (9nb); Fernando 23-2-118-2; Muralitharan 39-12-103-1; de Silva 2-0-5-0.

SRI LANKA: Marvan Atapattu, Russel Arnold, Kumar Sangakkara (wkt), Mahela Jayawardene, Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya (capt), Hashan Tillekeratne, Chaminda Vaas, Eric Upashantha, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralithara.

Umpires: S Bucknor (WIs), D Orchard (Rsa).

Third umpire: N Mallender (Eng).

Match referee: GViswanath (Ind).