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Stewart to quit after SA series

London: England wicketkeeper Alec Stewart will retire from Test cricket after the five-match series against South Africa starting on Thursday.

Stewart, 40, who plays his 129th Test at Edgbaston this week, has scored 8,281 runs at an average of 40.19, including 15 centuries, since making his debut in 1990. He has played more Tests than any other England player and is second only to his former captain Graham Gooch in the list of England Test run-scorers.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I let Duncan (coach Duncan Fletcher) know this morning over breakfast and then informed (chairman of selectors) David Graveney as well,” Stewart said on Tuesday.

“It’s not something I’ve taken lightly. I had 13 years as an international cricketer and it’s not something you just give away. I could have left it until the end of the summer but I felt it was better to get it over now.”

Fletcher said: “I still believe that Alec is the best all-round wicketkeeper we have got by some distance but there are some young keepers coming through.

“I think he has got better and better over the last couple of years and the thing that has impressed me most is his professionalism and the way he has been a role model for younger guys.”

Since making Test debut against West Indies in Jamaica in 1990, Stewart has been one of England’s most devoted servants. His average testifies to his ability as batsman but it would have undoubtedly been higher if he had not also kept wicket for most of his career.

He formed a successful opening partnership with former captain Mike Atherton during the 1990s, with the high point coming in the fourth Test against West Indies in Barbados in 1994. Stewart tamed the West Indies fast bowlers to score 118 and 143 as England became the first Test side to win in Bridgetown for 59 years.

An upright batsman who hits the ball crisply both sides of the wicket off the back foot, Stewart subsequently moved down the order when he resumed the wicketkeeping duties.

Passed over initially in favour of Atherton for the England captaincy, he took over from the Lancashire opener for the 1998 series against South Africa.

England won a hard-fought series but Stewart was deposed the following year when his side failed to advance to the second round of the World Cup.

He continued to give loyal service to his replacement Nasser Hussain with the one blot in his career coming in November, 2000, when an Indian bookmaker said he had paid Stewart to supplying him with information. Stewart was subsequently cleared by the ICC.

Stewart was always immaculately dressed and a devotee of physical fitness. “I leave nothing to chance in my preparation whether it be in the way I train in the nets, the fielding and wicketkeeping session I do or the fitness levels I try and maintain.”

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