Vaughan must stay wary of Lara

For England it would be the perfect conclusion to a remarkable summer of cricket. For the West Indies it would briefly put a smile back on the face of a region devastated by hurricanes and storms. Today's ICC Champions' Trophy final may not carry the kudos of a World Cup final but the teams of Michael Vaughan and Brian Lara still have plenty to play for.

For England it would be the perfect conclusion to a remarkable summer of cricket. For the West Indies it would briefly put a smile back on the face of a region devastated by hurricanes and storms. Today's ICC Champions' Trophy final may not carry the kudos of a World Cup final but the teams of Michael Vaughan and Brian Lara still have plenty to play for.

England are the only major Test playing nation yet to win one of cricket's most prestigious tournaments, and Vaughan will be desperate to venture into territory that Mike Brearley, Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch failed to reach. These three former captains led England in World Cup finals - in 1979, 1987 and 1992 - but each failed to get their hands on the trophy.

England, after their 4-0 whitewash over the West Indies in a recent Test series, will start as favourites but it would be wrong to underestimate Lara's side in limited-over cricket. In recent contests the West Indies have a 4-3 win advantage over England and today's result could well be dictated by the toss, or the ability of one side to handle the occasion better than their opponents.

Big matches bring out the best in great players and Lara will be the player England fear most. The recent form of the West Indies captain has not been as good as that of Ramnaresh Sarwan or Chris Gayle - and this week's blow to the throat from a Shoaib Akhtar bouncer will have done little for his confidence - but he remains this game's star attraction.

"I am fine, and I am looking forward to the match," Lara said, when asked about his welfare. "It was just a hit and I have been hit before. There is nothing to worry about. I am glad Shoaib is not in the England side but I have faced a lot of Harmison and Flintoff recently.

"It has been a top effort by our guys to get to this stage, and to win it would be really great. It is almost fate that we meet England in the final after playing so much cricket against each other this year. We have had some memorable days but also some we would rather forget. But I am not surprised to be in the final. Our one-day team differs from our Test team and we seem to be able to hold it together for 100 overs."

Despite his comments, Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff are sure to target Lara and yesterday he had a special little session where he practised keeping an eye on balls thrown at his throat. Attacking the left-hander here could well bring success but should England's pacemen get their line wrong, they will be punished savagely.

In attempting to undermine Lara, England do not want to take their eye off the remaining West Indian batsmen. England's bowlers know how dangerous Gayle can be - he scored an unbeaten 132 against England at Lord's in the NatWest series - and it is hard to find a better one-day player in the world than Sarwan at the moment.

But the West Indies bowling is vulnerable. Marcus Trescothick, Vaughan, Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood and Flintoff all arrive in form and it would be a surprise if one of these fails to make a big contribution.

If Lara is the player England need to look out for, Flintoff is the man the West Indies will want to control. In the recent Test series, the Lancashire all rounder pulverised them. And Flintoff's form in limited-over cricket has been just as hot - in his last six completed one-day innings he has scored three centuries and a 99.

After Tuesday's emphatic victory over Australia, there is a chance England may feel they have won their final but Vaughan refused to accept this. "We will try not to build this match up too much," he said, "but we are playing in the final of the second biggest one-day tournament in the world in our own country, and that makes it more special.The Oval is a fantastic place to hold a final. We have a decent record here and generally the winner is the side that plays the best cricket."

Both teams are expected to field the same 11 players that brought them to The Oval, although the West Indies will give the fast bowler Mervyn Dillon every chance to prove his fitness.

Probable Teams: England: M P Vaughan (c), M E Trescothick, V S Solanki, A J Strauss, A Flintoff, P D Collingwood, G O Jones (wkt), A F Giles, A G Wharf, D Gough, S J Harmison.

West Indies: B C Lara (c), C H Gayle, W W Hinds, R R Sarwan, S Chanderpaul, R L Powell, I D R Bradshaw, D J J Bravo, R O Hinds, C Browne (wkt), C D Collymore.

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