England stumble as Gayle turns tide

Click to follow
The Independent Online

West Indies 195-9 England 192 West Indies win by 3 runs

West Indies 195-9 England 192 West Indies win by 3 runs

There was nothing in this match but pride, and England fell hard trying to uphold it as West Indies achieved their first win in the competition despite an unbeaten hundred from Alec Stewart, his second in as many matches.

On a slow pitch, it was a brittle performance by the home side, who face Zimbabwe in tomorrow's final knowing that their old failings are never far below the surface. With five needed off the final over, and a part-time off-spinner, Chris Gayle, bowling it, the finale was always going to be tense. Throwing the ball to Gayle was a gamble by West Indies captain, Jimmy Adams, but it paid off as England lost their last three wickets for a single run.

First to go, off the first ball, was local lad Paul Franks, making his one-day debut. Hesitating as Stewart called, he was run out by a direct hit from Mahendra Nagamootoo.

Stewart, after running a leg-bye next ball then left it to Darren Gough to get him back on strike. With glory in his eyes, Gough gave the bowler the charge only to get bowled by a full toss. Alan Mullally fared little better and after a an aborted attempt to give Stewart the strike on the fourth ball, he was given out lbw to the fifth.

It is difficult to be too critical of someone playing their first international, but England's difficulties really stemmed from Franks' inability to return the strike to Stewart who faced one ball out of the last nine. In fact, Franks' four runs took up 17 balls and along with Mark Ealham's innings of 16 from 31 balls, probably cost England the match.

Others were almost as culpable, and there were two run-outs earlier in the innings, Graham Thorpe and Craig White, that owed just as much to England's hesitant running, as West Indies brilliance in the field. With the sun at last on their backs and the Test series about to resume, this was not a good time for England to let them end their losing streak.

This was Stewart's 131st one-day international, and well though he deserved it, only his fourth century in this form of cricket. The fact that he spent 11 years getting the first two and only three days getting the last two, at least shows his standards have not waned. Carrying your bat in a one-dayer is pretty unusual and was last achieved for England by Nick Knight on this very ground four years ago.

In some ways the whole match was bizarre, with five batsmen dismissed after playing-on. The pitch, with its sluggish nature was a contributing factor but, nearly all the victims were playing with a diagonal bat. When pitches are like this, it is prudent to keep the bat as straight as possible, something Stewart had worked out early on.

Stewart likes the ball coming on to the bat. He also likes, against pace, to play horizontal shots, which he eschewed in favour of vertical ones. He adapted his game to the conditions, something his colleagues were less willing, or able to do.

His opening partner, Marcus Trescothick was one example, and well though he has played in this series, and he again began brightly with several driven fours, their is an ominous feeling that the West Indies fast bowlers have worked him out.

Indeed, once Reon King came round the wicket to him, his demeanour changed, and he became less certain over which balls to play at. In the end he nibbled at one he should not have and the keeper took the catch.

Andrew Flintoff's back may be inflexible at the moment, but his approach to batting appears even more rigid. Presuming that his brief from the captain, is to be aggressive, Flintoff has to learn to choose his moment to turn on the power.

In contrast to their hesitant batting England's bowling and fielding was crisp and efficient, with White (3 for 35) excelling during the middle and late overs. The exception to this excellence was Franks, who looked nervous. Perhaps he tried too hard to impress, bowling too many four balls.

Without Brian Lara, the West Indies brought in Ramnaresh Sarwan to make his debut. Much good has been written about the teenager. Indeed yesterday's wristy, controlled innings, was impressive, before his bizarre dismissal - he diverted the ball onto the stumps with his follow-through - which typified thenature of the match.