West Indies book their spot in the final
West Indies 286 for 3 (Gayle 132*, Sarwan 89) beat England 285 for 7 (Flintoff 123, Strauss 100) by seven wickets
An unbeaten century from Chris Gayle helped West Indies book their place in the NatWest Series final. After Andrew Flintoff and Andrew Strauss had shared a record one-day stand for England in their total of 285 for 7, West Indies made it home with only three wickets down and five balls to spare, thanks mainly to a partnership of 187 between Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
A sunny and packed Lord's was treated to by far the best game of the series so far, as West Indies' cool and calculated run-chase overshadowed some marvellous hitting from Flintoff and Strauss after England again made a poor start. In their reply, West Indies eventually reached their target quite comfortably. They did have a few scares along the way, though, and England will be left to rue some sloppy fielding, as well as the memories of the NatWest Series final against India at Lord's in 2002, when they also lost after two players had made centuries.
England's total of 285 seemed to be a challenging one, but West Indies, led by Gayle, went about the chase with little fuss. After a quiet start, in which Devon Smith edged Darren Gough behind to Geraint Jones in the seventh over (15 for 1), Gayle and Sarwan began to step things up and gradually took control. Gayle slashed Stephen Harmison through point, and then twice pulled him to the rope in the same over. However, he had a life on 19, when a diving Strauss dropped him in the covers. Just to rub it in, Gayle drove James Anderson for fours in the next two overs.
Sarwan, when 16, survived a tough caught-and-bowled chance off Anderson, and then started to step on the gas with three quick fours. Gayle brought up his half-century, closely followed by Sarwan, who signalled his fifty with a leg-glance for four off Paul Collingwood. Gayle, who had been tied down, came down the track and drove Ashley Giles for six over mid-on, and England were in desperate need of a wicket - and they spurned another good chance.
Sarwan, who had 54 at the time, set off for a quick single, but was sent back by Gayle. As Sarwan turned, he slipped over and was resigned to his fate. However, Strauss threw hard at the stumps, but missed comfortably and the chance had gone. Later that over, Gayle and Sarwan hit a four apiece, and English hopes were fading fast.
Sarwan carried on in confident mood, driving Harmison and Giles to the boundary, but he then nicked a slower one from Anderson behind to Jones for an accomplished 89 (202 for 2). That was just what England needed, and West Indies still wanted 73 from 10 overs.
Anderson then put the game back in England's favour when Brian Lara nicked him behind to Jones for 10 (218 for 3). However, Gayle scampered to his hundred with a risky single, and after a few meaty blows from Ricardo Powell, West Indies needed 40 from 30 balls. Gayle and Powell made it look easy, with Powell whipping Gough past fine leg and smearing the next ball over mid-off for six. Indeed, 16 runs came off that over from Gough - and that was effectively that. Powell was left to hit the winning runs in the final over, and the West Indian celebrations began as England were denied a place at their own party.
Even a scintillating stand of 226 between Flintoff and Strauss, which rescued England from a perilous 54 for 3, wasn't quite enough. Flintoff smashed 123 from 104 balls, including seven huge sixes, while Strauss scored his second consecutive international century at Lord's, his home ground. They came together after the fall of Robert Key in the 19th over, and slowly but surely upped the tempo to give their side a sporting chance of victory.
Flintoff negotiated his way to his half-century with three fours, and Strauss wasn't far behind, reaching his fifty from 84 balls. Flintoff continued to pick his shots to perfection. He hammered Dwayne Bravo for two big blows way over mid-on, and clubbed Dwayne Smith through midwicket for his ninth four. Strauss smacked the expensive Bravo for 18 off his last over, and Flintoff then smashed Smith for two fours before he signalled his second successive one-day century from 91 balls by drilling Smith over midwicket for six.
West Indies had leaked a whopping 48 runs in the 44th and 45th overs, the first of which went for 27 - a one-day record for England. And it wasn't finished there. Flintoff bludgeoned Gayle for two more sixes before he was finally out, caught at the second attempt by Ian Bradshaw at cover off Gayle (280 for 4). Strauss, caught off a no-ball on 97, then reached his deserved century in the last over before he too was out caught, by Bravo at deep midwicket, for a round, sparkling 100 (284 for 5).
However, their efforts in the end proved to be in vain, and England again paid for a sticky start. Tino Best struck in the fourth over when he nipped one back through Marcus Trescothick's flat-footed defences and bowled him all ends up (14 for 1). Michael Vaughan's poor form continued when he then played a loose drive at a wide one from Best and nicked it behind to Ridley Jacobs for 8 (27 for 2). Key then wasted a solid start when he was bowled through the gate by Smith with one that nipped back (54 for 3). Strauss and Flintoff then led the recovery, but it wasn't enough to prevent West Indies completing a deserved victory and advancing to meet New Zealand in the final at Lord's on Saturday.