London: Alec Stewart insisted on Wednesday his international career was far from over and vowed to regain his position as England wicket-keeper.
"I still believe I'm good enough to play for England," the 39-year-old Surrey veteran said. "Age doesn't come into it. If you're good enough you get picked," said Stewart, who made it clear he wanted to play One-day Internationals as well as Tests. He added, "The record's pretty impressive but it's the selectors who pick the side and they've got to pick what they believe is the best balanced side for England." Stewart has scored 7,469 runs at 39.31 in 115 Tests, including 14 hundreds, with 231 dismissals to his name. But when England recently announced its centrally contracted list of players Stewart's name was missing from the 11-man elite. Instead England gave a contract to James Foster, 17 years Stewart's junior at 22. The Essex keeper had a torrid time behind the stumps during England's winter tours of India and New Zealand, regularly dropping chances and missing stumpings. "He improved as he went on," said Stewart of Foster. "It's a big jump from county cricket to international cricket. He played some important innings and a couple of 40s in India that were vital." But when it came to Foster's glove work, Stewart pointedly told reporters at The Oval, "I'll leave that to you." Former England captain Stewart opted out of England's winter tour to India and, with the selectors insisting players could not pick and choose their trips, was omitted from the subsequent New Zealand campaign. But as it turned out Stewart had an operation in October on both elbows to repair tendon damage. "I wouldn't have been fit until the beginning of March," he explained. However, what should have been a restful winter for Stewart was interrupted by the death, in a car accident in Perth, of Surrey and England teammate Ben Hollioake. Hollioake's death, at the age of 24, had a profound effect on the Surrey side, but Stewart said they were starting to come to terms with their loss. "The fact that 14 of us made the trip to Perth to pay our respects and say farewell to Ben has made it slightly easier in the dressing room because we did our grieving in Perth, together. "The boys are now very much into their cricket but obviously we'll never forget Ben Hollioake. We've lost a very, very good friend as well as a good cricketer," he said. First-choice overseas player Saqlain Mushtaq will be away on international duty with Pakistan for the opening month of the season so Surrey has signed up the off spinner's countryman, Azhar Mahmood, an all-rounder, as a temporary replacement. "Azhar Mahmood is a good cricketer and a good cricketer always fits into a good side," said Stewart. Surrey, County Champion in 1999 and 2000, is expected to be one of current holders Yorkshire's main challengers for the title. But it will start the season without captain Adam Hollioake, Ben's older brother, leaving England batsman Mark Butcher in charge. Hollioake has remained in Perth with parents John and Daria where Ben's girlfriend Janaya Scholten is still recovering from injuries sustained in the crash. It is not yet clear when he will come back to Surrey, although they hope to see him by the end of May. Surrey coach Keith Medlycott said, "All we can do is be a great support to Adam and his family. As and when Adam is fit to play professional cricket he'll return."
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