Hosts need a lighter touch

Henry Blofeld says the weather has blighted the first NatWest series
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The Independent Online

It is not often that one-day finals manage to live up to their billing. This match became a salvage operation for Zimbabwe all too quickly when they found themselves at 34 for 4 in the 15th over. Although the Flower brothers did their best to take them on to a working score, the bowling and the fielding was too good to allow them a way back into the match.

It is not often that one-day finals manage to live up to their billing. This match became a salvage operation for Zimbabwe all too quickly when they found themselves at 34 for 4 in the 15th over. Although the Flower brothers did their best to take them on to a working score, the bowling and the fielding was too good to allow them a way back into the match.

When Heath Streak picked up two wickets in his first over it seemed just possible that there might be a monumental upset. But, as always, the cool head and straight bat of Alec Stewart saw the danger pass.

This has not been the best of one-day competitions and the weather must take the main responsibility for that. It is no fun watching day/night or indeed any other cricket in July in sweaters and windcheaters with umbrellas at the ready.

The case for cricket under floodlights in England has still not been proven. The climate is always likely to prevent it being a spectacle to match what goes on in the southern hemisphere countries. There is all the difference in the world between the handsome banks of floodlights on Australia's main ground and the spindly groups of temporary lighting which have done duty at Bristol, Old Trafford and Edgbaston. They gave it all rather an apologetic look.

The lights at Edgbaston were particularly poor because they were set too far away from the cricket, which was played in an inadequate light. This took as much away from the spectacle as the weather had done at Old Trafford. The introduction of international cricket to Chester-le-Street at Riverside was one outstanding success of the competition and Test cricket should not be long in following.

This first NatWest series has brought England an important victory. They made a poor start to the competition but were quick to pick up the lessons taught by Zimbabwe in their early matches. No praise can be too high for the way in which the Zimbabweans have conducted themselves on this tour to the background of mayhem at home and a succession of injuries here in England.

After their first two games, England's bowlers suddenly realised the importance of keeping to a tight length and line. Darren Gough has been magnificent all summer, and although Andy Caddick has been irritatingly inconsistent, he has pulled it all together for the later stages of the series.

Mark Ealham was invaluable at a brisk medium, acting like a form of slow torture on batsmen anxious to play their strokes. While Ealham bowled as we had expected, Alan Mullally, who was transformed, and Craig White were more of a surprise. Both bowled with control and hostility which allowed them to contain and also to take wickets. The bowling in this series augurs well for England in the next World Cup.

The "find" for England has been Marcus Trescothick, whose only failure came in the final. The opener has a simple method and a wonderful temperament. It remains to be seen what he will make of Test cricket but he has earned his chance and it will not be long before we know the answer.

The middle-order batting remains as big a problem as ever. I wish I could see any point in continuing with Graeme Hick, who is still frighteningly inconsistent, while Andy Flintoff must go back and try and work his game out in county cricket. What a pity the selectors went back to the 34-year-old Matthew Maynard and never gave a chance to Vikram Solanki, who is 10 years younger.

Next year this competition will be played in June, as it would have been but for Euro 2000. Pakistan and Australia will make for an interesting triangular tournament but if those floodlights are not significantly updated, it will be a good summer for Australian whinging, and justifiably so.

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