Gough engineers England's triumph

Natwest Traingular Series Final: Stewart's big score secures man of series award but all-round effort provides key to victory

England have always tended to play their best one-day cricket when they have been high on efficiency and low on drama. Close matches that hinge on nerve and risk are not yet their forte, which is why, after Zimbabwe were stifled by a fine opening salvo from the bowlers, victory in the NatWest Triangular series final at Lord's on Saturday wasalways assured, secured by Alec Stewart's third big score insuccessive innings .

England have always tended to play their best one-day cricket when they have been high on efficiency and low on drama. Close matches that hinge on nerve and risk are not yet their forte, which is why, after Zimbabwe were stifled by a fine opening salvo from the bowlers, victory in the NatWest Triangular series final at Lord's on Saturday wasalways assured, secured by Alec Stewart's third big score insuccessive innings .

Stewart, whose 97 on his favourite stage followed scores of 101 and 100 not out, was man of both the final and the series. If few would have argued with the latter, after he had made 408 runs at an average of 81.6, the match award might have just as deservedly gone to Darren Gough, whose love of the big occasion saw him take 3 for 20.

It was Gough's early strikes, along with the awkward bounce and accuracy of Andrew Caddick and Alan Mullally, that checked Zimbabwe's ambition and forced them to settle for a total even the most ardent of rowdy supporters knew to be inadequate. Stewart might have won the headlines, but it has been England's bowlers, particularly their leading trio, that have provided the true teamwork.

It was largely on the back of their excellent work that the back-up bowlers, Craig White and Mark Ealham, were only occasionally under pressure. Both bowled well, with White's confidence and reverse swing combining to bring him 11 wickets and make him the leading wicket-taker in the tournament.

In the six matches they completed, the highest score conceded against England was 210. Two reasons for this are the capricious nature of the white ball and the responsive pitches, which, Durham apart, have favoured ball over bat.

According to Gough, another factor was the specialist nature of England's attack, a change of tack from the theory a year or so back of packing the side with bits and pieces all-rounders.

"I don't believe in one-day specialists," said Gough. "If you have three out-and-out bowlers to do the job, not many teams will get 250 against you. I think Gough, Mullally and Caddick are a good unit. I'd like us to all be there for the next World Cup, but as we are all around 30, I don't know if we will be."

Gough loves one-day cricket and he has become a fine practitioner of its arts. Unlike batting technique, which can be compromised by one-day cricket, bowling tends to be enhanced by the constant search for variation needed in staying ahead of the batsman.

As if it were needed, after the off-break that castled Murray Goodwin at Lord's, Gough is apparently working on a second type of slower ball. In fact, the batsman read the deception, though the dryness of the pitch allowed it to grip and rip down the slope between bat and pad, a sequence that brought about that rare connection between conception and execution. Gough's efforts, as well as those of Caddick and Mullally, would not have been as effective without the support of the fielding, which apart from the spilling of some difficult chances, has been in the Aussie class.

As the coach, Duncan Fletcher must take most of the credit here. England's ring of steel, as well as the steely concentration of those bowling, certainly did for Alistair Campbell as he tried to force Mullally through the covers.

With Neil Johnson gone for 21, after chopping-on to Caddick, the Flowers added 89 with their customary hustle and bustle before White shaped one away from the elder Flower, Andy, and found the edge.

As captain of a side that has only belatedly done themselves justice, Andy admitted to feeling "let down" by the defections of Johnson and Goodwin to safer pastures. But if that is a huge setback, he must be gratified to see the improvements made by younger brother, Grant, after he topped both the batting and bowling averages for his country.

Restricted to 169, despite Grant Flower's unbeaten 53, Zimbabwe needed early wickets if an upset was to be perpetrated. Bowling manfully, as he always does whenever fit, Heath Streak did his best to fire a retort, removing Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Flintoff in his third over.

With Stewart finding the one-day form of his career, the double strike was never going to be much more than an inconvenience, and once Graeme Hick had found his footwork, and helped add 134 for the third wicket, the game was up.

Known by Gough as "Mr Health and Fitness," Stewart has shown that age has not dimmed him. But while the "Sanatogenarian" tag isperhaps overplayed, there is no doubt that, proving a point to selectors for dropping him last winter, has improved him as a player.

Yet chance, in the form of cracked digits to Hussain and Nick Knight, has also played a part, by giving him an opportunity to open the innings. Whether he could have made the same point in the middle-order is something the selectors must consider, not only for future one-day games, but the next Test match as well.

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