When Alec Stewart was in full flow, there were few who could live with him. Relying on touch, he was in his element against the quicks, cover-driving with a neat flourish and pulling with panache – most memorably when he thundered two centuries during England’s storming of fortress Bridgetown in 1993-94.
Stewart’s strength as an opening batsman was compromised by the selectors’ desire for balance: he and Jack Russell swapped the wicket-keeping gloves regularly throughout the 1990s, but Stewart eventually became the regular No. 1.
He took over theEngland captaincy from Mike Atherton in 1998 and promptly led the side to its first major series win for 12 years, against South Africa. But Stewart’s leadership was based on pride and passion, and whenEngland lost another Ashes series and flopped in the 1999 World Cup, he was harshly axed.
He hit top form again during the 2000 one-day triangular series, and when he scorched a century in his 100th Test, the sheer length of the standing ovation he received suggested that Stewart had become a national institution. AgainstIndia at Lord’s in 2002, he crowned his achievements by becoming England’s most-capped Test cricketer, overtaking Graham Gooch’s record of 118 matches.
Despite calls for a younger wicketkeeper to take his place, Stewart continued to give his all forEngland until he called it a day from all forms of the game afterEngland’s drawn series withSouth Africain 2003. Fittingly, his final game was at The Oval in which he scored 38, but more importantly to a man likeStewart,England won. He will go down as one of England’s greatest ever all-rounders and he has been missed in the team since he retired.
He is now a much in demand after dinner speaker.