Stewart's mission should inspire England

Revenge is sweet, but proving a point is sweeter still, something Alec Stewart will want to do again on his favourite stage at Lord's when England meet Zimbabwe in today's final of the Natwest series.

Revenge is sweet, but proving a point is sweeter still, something Alec Stewart will want to do again on his favourite stage at Lord's when England meet Zimbabwe in today's final of the Natwest series.

English cricket hath no fury like an old pro scorned and ever since the selectors tried to phase him out of the one-day side five months ago, Stewart has been a man on a mission, scoring two centuries as well as an unbeaten 72 in the preliminary stages of this tournament.

A man not given to grand gestures off the field, he will nevertheless enjoy the metaphorical two fingers towards his detractors that another fine performance would bring, in this his 132nd one-day international. Interestingly, while Stewart has made back to back hundreds, the man closest to him in appearances, Graeme Hick (111), has made back to back ducks.

Nasser Hussain's team should win too, despite their limp batting performance against the West Indies on Thursday. If they do, they stand to win £20,000 in prize-money along with a £70,000 bonus from the England and Wales Cricket Board. It is not huge by comparison to other sports, but it is improving.

The defeat by West Indies was an untimely reminder that the self-destruct button has not been entirely removed and that Stewart and Marcus Trescothick apart, the rest are desperately short of runs.

"Alec has been magnificent," said Hussain yesterday. "Not only these past few weeks but ever since he first pulled on an England shirt. He's very rarely let himself, or us, down, be it batting, captaining or wicketkeeping and it is plain to see just what a fine cricketer he's been for his country."

A latecomer to the show after cracking his thumb, Hussain has relinquished his opening spot to Stewart, a move that, along with the promotion of Andrew Flintoff to No 3, has left the captain in limbo. The Flintoff experiment has not really worked though, and Hussain hinted that he may come in first wicket down, though much will depend on the pitch and match situation.

Hussain also said how he had offered to go back and play for Essex once fit, a move that was overruled by those around him.

England have not won a one-day trophy or series at home since beating Australia in 1997. Although the current tournament has brought together arguably the three weakest one-day sides in the world (though England are hindered by their batting, not their bowling or fielding), Hussain believes a win is vital for his team.

"I see a side that's worked hard for each other and it's important that we get some reward. There's not many people who hate winning and that's what we play for."

Win or lose, the ramifications of the one-day series could have a bearing on the rest of the summer. Breaking for a bit of hit and giggle after winning a tense second Test may not have been the most sensible thing in the world but in Trescothick, England have at least unearthed a delightfully uncomplicated talent.

According to Hussain, there has not been a player since Graham Thorpe that has taken so readily to international cricket as the Somerset left-hander who will now surely be picked for the third Test.

It is a discovery Zimbabwe's captain, Andy Flower, wished his country could emulate, particularly after news that both Murray Goodwin and Neil Johnson, the visitor's foremost players, are to retire - Goodwin to play for Western Australia and Johnson to take up with Western Province.

As ever the issue is primarily about money, though uncertainty about the political future of the country was also a factor. Their departure is a huge blow to the short termfuture of Zimbabwe cricket and both will want to give their team-mates something to remember them by.

The score between these two teams in one-day matches is 8-7 in England's favour. A more realistic statistic, however, is that in games since January, England are 6-2 up.

If the pitch is true and England's middle order get over their jitters, that gap should have increased by this evening.

ENGLAND (from): N Hussain (Essex, capt), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), A Flintoff (Lancashire), G A Hick (Worcestershire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), C White (Yorkshire), M A Ealham (Kent), A R Caddick (Somerset), D Gough (Yorkshire), A D Mullally (Hampshire), N V Knight (Warwickshire), P J Franks (Nottinghamshire).

ZIMBABWE (from): N C Johnson, G J Whittall, A D R Campbell, S V Carlisle, M W Goodwin, G W Flower, A Flower (capt, wkt), D P Viljoen, H H Streak, P A Strang, M Mbangwa, B C Strang, J A Rennie.

Umpires: D R Shepherd and P Willey.

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