Walk-the-talk: Vauxhall to The Oval with Alec Stewart!

Surrey's favourite son and former England captain tips India and England to play the final of the ICC Champions Trophy in Birmingham on June 23.

Updated: June 12, 2013 00:51 IST
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London: From Vauxhall overground station to The Oval is a brisk seven-minute walk. On a grey Tuesday morning, a fit-looking Englishman was briskly pacing down Durham Street. Dressed in black pants, white shirt and a charcoal black sweater, the gentleman's face appeared very recognizable. He was no one else but England's former Test captain, Alec Stewart.

We were on the same footpath leading to the cricket ground and I shouted "Hello, Alec."

He glanced at me and said: "Hi, there. Off to the cricket?"

"Yes. I am a journalist from India and covering the Champions Trophy," I said.

"Ah yes. So how's the tournament going for you?" asked the 50-year-old.

"Going fine for us, Indians. The match versus West Indies will probably decide a semifinalist from group B," I said.

"Hmm, yes. I think India are very strong in batting and I reckon it will be an India versus England final," the former Surrey skipper said.

"What's wrong with Pakistan? They were shocking in both games (versus the West Indies and South Africa)," I said.

"They can't bat for nuts. Pakistan only bat well against India. I think the arch-rival factors plays well on them. But they just can't bat," said the cricketer-turned-BBC commentator.

"Yes, but they have some real talent," I reply.

"Their bowlers are good and Pakistan can't always expect them to win matches. The batsmen need to score," said the veteran of 170 ODIs.

We now both approach the Alec Stewart gate at The Oval. The Indian fans, getting ready for the West Indies match, are oblivious that one of England's top captains has just walked past. They are busy painting their faces with the Tri-olour. Some of them are doing some last-minute 'shopping' to egg on Dhoni's boys.

I request Alec for a photograph in front of the gate named after him. He happily poses and bids me goodbye saying: "It's a great honour having a gate named after me."

Both Alec and father Mickey, who has been England's cricket manager, have their names etched at The Oval. Mickey is 81 now and leads a retired life, informs his son, who took over the England captaincy from Mike Atherton in 1998.

In 2005, Surrey honoured 20 of their greatest players by naming seats after them in the newly-rebuilt Vauxhall End at The Oval. The main entrance to the Vauxhall End was christened, the Alec Stewart Gate.

The Long Room Bar in the Pavilion was named the Ali Brown 268 Bar, after the batsman's record one-day innings against Glamorgan in 2002. Current players to have seating blocks in their name include Martin Bicknell, Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe.

Top stars from the yesteryears have not been forgotten. The names of John Edrich, Percy Fender and former England captain Douglas Jardine also find a place. The Sydney Room has been renamed the Micky Stewart Surrey Clubs Room.

The Oval has a chequered history. According to The Telegraph, Henry VIII used the land to grow asparagus. Then, in 1845 there was a market garden on the land, until the Duchy of Cornwall decided to convert it to a cricket ground.

The Oval staged the first football international in 1870, when England drew 1-1 with Scotland. Then, in 1872, The Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 in the first FA Cup final. Apart from 1873, the Cup final stayed at the ground until 1892. The Oval also hosted the second rugby union international in 1872, involving England and Scotland.

During World War Two, The Oval was intended for use as a prisoner of war camp, although it was never pressed into action.

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