Alec Stewart on England's tour of India
Former England captain and wicket-keeping batsman Alec Stewart is the most capped English cricketer of all time in Test matches and boasts a batting average just shy of 40 and 277 dismissals behind the stumps. With England set to begin their latest Test series against India, Orange spoke to Stewart about England's chances, the horrors of touring the sub-continent and the majesty of Sachin Tendulkar.
India's a notoriously tough place to tour. What's your prediction for the Test series?
If England come back having drawn the series that would go down as a very good tour of India. There's no tougher Test series and India just don't tend to lose at home so will predictably start as favourites. In addition, they'll want revenge for that 4-0 defeat in England 18 months ago. I can't see England winning. It's so, so tough. Just look at the record books. I think Australia managed it a few years back but it's not a regular occurrence.
Can you give us a bit of a flavour of what it's like to tour India?
It's like nowhere else in the world. As tourists, you're made to feel like heroes while their own players, like MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, are like superheroes. Even as an England player if you were to go out for dinner, word would spread and, by the time you left the restaurant, there would be a massive throng of people clamouring to see you. The noise the whole time everywhere we went was crazy and it could get quite abusive when it came to the matches themselves.
We imagine the adulation is off the scale for Sachin Tendulkar...
The guy is the ultimate cricketing God in their eyes. How he's coped with the adulation that he's received is quite beyond me over such a long and remarkable career. I have no idea how he does and, despite all that adulation, he has remained the same humble person I first met as a 16-year-old.
So how do you win a tour in India?
You have to back your own ability - that's the key. England have that confidence and they need to feed off that. They need to have a real awareness of both their strengths and weaknesses. The players' skill is key but it's the sort of place where you need a bit of luck on your side as well, and make sure you get in a winning position.
How do you think Alastair Cook will be as a captain. Will he be an Andrew Strauss mark II?
No, I think he'll be an Alastair Cook mark I. As a captain you feed off the captains you've played under and played against, and obviously the one he knows the best is Straussy. So he'll have taken elements from him. I'm confident he'll very much be his own man. He's a very intelligent, level-headed guy. Obviously there will be immediate comparisons to Strauss as soon as he makes key decisions and he'll have to deal with it. He just needs to take the job on as his own from the start.
Strauss's potential replacements as opener - Nick Compton and Joe Root - have struggled a little on the tour so far. Who would you pick and why?
I don't think a decision has been made yet - it's that close - and I think it will rest on who's in the best current form in that third and final tour match. Coming into this series, you would have said Nick Compton was first choice after the year he's had in county cricket but the two guys are very contrasting. Nick's an experienced player and a run builder, while Joe Root's the exciting up-and-coming talent. I think Nick Compton will just sneak it but it'll be tight.
What about in terms of spinners? Would you play two specialist spinners in Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, or bring in Samit Patel?
I think it rather depends on the wicket. If it's one that's going to turn from day one then you need to have Panesar and Swann but, if it's not going to turn until day four or five, then you'd go Swann and Patel, who's a good batsman and can bowl a bit. I think that one will change on a Test-by-Test basis.
What do you make of the whole Kevin Pietersen saga, has he integrated back into the team and how vital will he be in the series?
England need to pick their best players and Kevin Pietersen is England's best player. So, I'm very pleased that he's back playing after how messy it all got. As a bowler, there are just some players you don't want to bowl against. Of my era, that was probably Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist and Sachin Tendulkar. KP's in that mould and India would have been hoping he would have stayed at home rather than tour. He's just one of those remarkable talents that can change the direction of an entire Test match in just two hours.