Glory for Alec, a trophy for Nasser

NatWest Series: Tangible success at last for England as efficiency puts paid to Zimbabwe's challenge
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The Independent Online

England's trophy cabinet was at last brought out of storage yesterday. There have been times when it seemed it would be doomed forever to continue a lonely, unfilled existence, but the cups won three long years ago now have company.

England's trophy cabinet was at last brought out of storage yesterday. There have been times when it seemed it would be doomed forever to continue a lonely, unfilled existence, but the cups won three long years ago now have company.

It was a matter more for quiet relief than loud celebration that England should win the inaugural NatWest Series to add to their most recent successes, in 1997 in competitions which are now defunct, the Champions' Trophy in Sharjah and the Texaco Trophy at home. A lot of losing has flowed under a bridge they have hardly been steadfast in guarding.

The victory in the final of the new triangular tournament by six wickets with 22 balls to spare provided evidence, as their captain, Nasser Hussain, submitted later, that they were a team now accustomed to playing together. Yes and no. Their bowlers are operating as a well-drilled, knowledgeable unit but the man of the hour, the match and the series was Alec Stewart, who a year ago was ditched in furtherance of a youth policy.

His 97 yesterday followed two centuries and a world record-equalling haul of catches. It made nonsense of the aforementioned policy but does nothing for England's vision thing. Stewart, 37, asked about continuing to the World Cup, said he would give it a go, without specifying which World Cup.

Hussain spoke rightly of England's improvement - not least since they started this tournament so lamentably two weeks earlier - but there is no point in running away with the notion that they are yet an accomplished unit. They have won and eventually won well against two sides who are not in the formidable category, but where England are concerned rabbits are never too far away. Either they are pulling them out of the hat or playing like them.

At least they were in control throughout yesterday, probably from the moment they were able to field under overcast skies and certainly from the second over after play began. After restricting Zimbabwe to a meagre total of 169, perhaps 30, 50 or 80 below what the surface, if not the intitial conditions, merited, they would have had to play beyond their worst nightmares to lose.

When two wickets went to the new ball, long-suffering observers - that is, most of the full-house crowd - must have begun to wonder. A stand of 134 between Stewart and Graeme Hick put the issue, and tournament, beyond doubt.

Stewart was a mere three runs short of creating history. Had he scored them he would have been the first England player to score three consecutive one-day hundreds and only the third in all, following Zaheer Abbas and Saeed Anwar.

Indeed, he would have scored more hundreds in his last three one-day matches than he had in the previous 129, which brought him only two. But it was academic. Having hit the worthy Heath Streak for two fours in a row he then tried for a third and 15th in all and instead gave a hefty edge to his 123rd ball. Hick, who had been stoic, was caught and bowled a trifle limply soon after. This was England's version of the killer instinct that the best sides have.

The fall of the coin was important. Zimbabwe called it wrongly. This was a long way from win toss, win match, but under the early cloud cover it was a distinct help and did nothing to lengthen England's odds. But they set about their work with will, endeavour and all the signs that this time they were not about to dissipate their advantage. England's bowling in this series has been, if not a revelation, a model of propriety. It has obeyed most of the one-day rules and in the phrase of the professionals it has strangled the opposition.

Within 15 overs, Zimbabwe were on the point of being throttled at 31 for 4. Their top four batsmen had gone, among them their two brightest, Murray Goodwin and Neil Johnson, both playing their last games for the country where they were born, left, readopted and have now left again. There was hardly a ball to hit. It said something for their phlegm and their spirit that they kept at it. The brothers Flower, Andy and Grant, did not bloom exactly but nor were they about to be nipped in the bud.

England used the five bowlers who have sustained them throughout the tournament. Some were cheaper than others, but that does not mean any were expensive. It is not simply that their economy rate - and Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough and Alan Mullally have been exemplary - has been low, it is their accuracy. England have bowled a total of 15 wides in this series. In last summer's World Cup they bowled 17 in the match against Zimbabwe alone. Now, if only England can get their no-ball tendencysorted out.

The brothers, mostly nudging in the one-day way, had put on 89 in 27 overs when the elder pushed at a ball on off stump and was taken at the wicket. How Zimbabwe's gallant captain deserved a half-century.

The rest did not crumble, or accelerate. They consolidated again until a late flourish from Heath Streak which included two sixes in an over, both above point, off Craig White. But the sun was now out and 169 for 7 on this surface was not so much vulnerable as inviting to be pulverised.

In came Marcus Trescothick and Stewart, the ad hoc opening partnership for this series, which would have read Nasser Hussain and Nick Knight had injury not intervened. Trescothick failed for the first time. He was pretty immobile as Streak, Zimbabwe's best bowler, tucked him up on off stump and obligingly edged to slip, where Alistair Campbell took a sharp catch. You could already hear the phrase: "I told you so" echoing among the more excitable pundits, and they were not talking about Campbell's slip catching.

It probably received another airing four balls later when Andrew Flintoff, retaining the No 3 position, managed an inside edge to an off-cutter which crashed into his stumps. He probably played down the wrong line, he might have been worried about whether to attack or to defend, it might have been just one of those things that happen against a splendid bowler with a new ball.

It was the only glimpse of another famous victory that the tourists had, and England now lead 9-7 in all matches between the sides. As they should. Hick, on three ducks in a row, was dogged, Stewart, on three centuries in a row, was merrily blazing. He was in form, but equally he might have been due to fail. No chance, and he offered no chance. He reached 50 from 75 balls with seven fours, and although the Zimbabweans fielded like tigers, the only point at issue was whether he would join an exclusive club. He would not.

Lord's scoreboard

England won toss


N C Johnson b Caddick 21 (Inside edge from back-foot forcing shot; 63 min, 55 balls, 5 fours) G J Whittall c Hick b Gough 0 (Edge to gully off lifting ball; 5 min, 1 ball) M W Goodwin b Gough 3 (Beaten by nip-backer which clipped off bail; 17 min, 11 balls) A D R Campbell c White b Mullally 1 (Loose drive to cover; 26 min , 19 balls) *ÿA Flower c Stewart b White 48 (Pushed at seaming ball; 120 min, 81 balls, 4 fours) G W Flower not out 53 (146 min, 102 balls, 4 fours) S V Carlisle c Caddick b White 14 (Skied slog to deep long-on; 21 min, 20 balls, 2 fours) H H Streak lbw b Gough 18 (Played across line of penultimate ball; 14 min, 12 balls, 2 sixes) B C Strang not out 0 (1 min, 1 ball) Extras (b1, lb6, w2, nb2) 11 Total (for 7, 210 min, 50 overs) 169

Fall: 1-4 (Whittall), 2-12 (Goodwin), 3-21 (Campbell), 4-31 (Johnson), 5-120 (A Flower), 6-143 (Carlisle), 7-169 (Streak).

Did not bat: D P Viljoen, M Nkala.

Bowling: Caddick 10-2-23-1 (one spell), Gough 10-2-20-3 (nb1,w1) (5-2-4-2 3-0-9-0 2-0-7-1), Mullally 10-1-32-1 (w1) (6-1-17-1 2-0-5-0 2-0-10-0), White 10-2-46-2 (5-1-14-0 3-1-9-1 2-0-23-1), Ealham 10-0-41-0 (4-0-15-0 6-0-26-0).

Progress: 50 in 104 min, 148 balls. 100 in 158 min, 229 balls. 150 in 200 min, 289 balls.

G Flower 50: 139 min , 99 balls, 4 fours.


M E Trescothick c Campbell b Streak 1 (Slashed hard to first slip; 10 min, 5 balls) ÿA J Stewart c A Flower b Streak 97 (Edged to wicket-keeper on back foot; 152 min, 123 balls, 14 fours) A Flintoff b Streak 0 (Inside edge playing down wrong line; 3 min, 4 balls) G A Hick c and b Viljoen 41 (Chipped back to bowler; 123 min, 95 balls, 1 four) G P Thorpe not out 10 (26 balls) *N Hussain not out 9 (21 balls, 1 four) Extras (lb5, w5, nb2) 12 Total (4 wkts, 45.2 overs) 170

Fall: 1-9 (Trescothick), 2-9 (Flintoff), 3-143 (Stewart), 4-149 (Hick).

Did not bat: C White, M A Ealham, A R Caddick, D Gough, A D Mullally.

Bowling: Streak 10-3-30-3 (w3) (6-2-11-2 4-1-19-0), Nkala 5-0-30-0 (w1) (2-0-16-0 3-0-14-0), Strang 10-3-26-0 (nb1), Johnson 6-0-22-0 (nb1), Viljoen 10-0-35-1, Whittall 4-0-20-0 (w1), Campbell 0.2-0-2-0 (one spell each).

Progress: 50 in 69 min, 97 balls. 100 in 120 min, 174 balls. 150 in 167 min, 239 balls.

Stewart 50: 94 mins, 75 balls, 7 fours.

Umpires: D R Shepherd and P Willey. TV Replay Umpire: D J Constant.

Match Referee: R S Madugalle

NatWest Series

Thursday 6 July: Zimbabwe bt West Indies by 6 wkts (Bristol) Saturday 8 July: Zimbabwe bt England by 5 wkts (The Oval) Sunday 9 July: England v West Indies, match abandoned (Lord's) Tuesday 11 July: Zimbabwe bt West Indies by 70 runs (Canterbury) Thursday 13 July: England bt Zimbabwe by 8 wkts (Old Trafford, d/n) Saturday 15 July: England bt West Indies by 10 wkts (Riverside) Sunday 16 July: Zimbabwe bt West Indies by 6 wkts (Riverside) Tuesday 18 July: England bt Zimbabwe by 52 runs (Edgbaston, d/n) Thursday 20 July: England v West Indies, Trent Bridge

Final table

Team P W L NR RR Pts

Zimbabwe 6 4 2 0 -0.28 8

England 6 3 2 1 0.98 7

West Indies 6 1 4 1 -0.70 3