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July 10, 2004
It's not every day that a team reaches a final, even when it's the final of a three-team tournament. But from the way the West Indians approached today's NatWest Series showdown, you would have thought it was their birthright. From their lackadaisical warm-up, to their timid meltdown in the fading evening light, their performance was littered with more unforced errors than a rookie at Wimbledon. If any of those had been attributable to nerves, it might have been more acceptable.
At the seventh attempt, the trend of the series has finally been reversed. Until today, the mantra "Win the toss, win the match" had been holding sway, and when New Zealand contrived to lose seven wickets for 49 runs in their last 12 overs, it seemed as though West Indies could yet maintain that trend - they certainly had the batting depth to cope, and on Tuesday they successfully chased a stiffer target than 267. However, there was only one worthy winner. There was little to choose between the teams' batting and bowling efforts, but New Zealand outfielded, outfought and out-thought their opponents, and it is was they - and, happily, not the toss - who maintained the 100% winning record.
"If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail," was Graham Gooch's favourite saying in the early 1990s, and while his hair-shirted approach was treated with suspicion back then, in this modern day and age, it is an unavoidable fact of the game. And yet, the difference between the warm-ups was a sight to behold. The Kiwis, on the main square, were all vim and vigour - eager fielding drills, sprints and shuttle runs, sharp athleticism to the fore. West Indies, meanwhile, were on the Nursery ground (appropriately enough), occasionally patting a catch or two to each other, maybe touching their toes if they could be bothered.
"It was like watching a bunch of old men," said a perplexed steward, looking down from the Edrich Stand. In fact, it ought to have been quite the opposite. Only five members of the current squad had been born when West Indies last won a cup final at Lord's - the 1979 World Cup. Of those, only Brian Lara (aged 10) and Ridley Jacobs (12) are likely to have any genuine recollection of the event. It's hard to imagine England's 1966-obsessed footballers taking (or being permitted) such a half-cocked attitude to a chance of glory.
Accidents will happen, and so there is little point in blaming Chris Gayle for dropping Stephen Fleming, or Ricardo Powell for failing to convert his impressive effort at backward point. And let's not point the finger at Ramnaresh Sarwan for his run-out, or Devon Smith for his, or Ian Bradshaw for his. But these things add up, and when multiplied by minor miracles, such as Scott Styris's one-handed recovery at short midwicket to remove Dwayne Bravo, the difference is marked - about 107 runs, in fact.
In Tuesday's match at Lord's, England's batsmen had been made to pay for their slow start. Today, it was West Indies' bowlers and fielders who allowed New Zealand out of an early tight corner. Though they came to their senses towards the end of the innings, and restricted the Kiwis to 19 fewer runs than they had successfully chased against England, they had not reckoned for the difference that a settled and successful side makes. Even so, New Zealand's collapse included a hat-trick of sorts for Tino Best, who seems to have had the prefix "The irrepressible ..." grafted onto his name. He will find the Test series much more to his scattergun liking, and England will beware.
The denouement of the match, however, came at a much gentler pace. If Daniel Vettori took the match award for his five-wicket haul, then the champagne moment belonged to Chris Harris, New Zealand's folk-hero-in-chief, who had been stuck on 199 one-day wickets for eight matches and eight months - his last victim had been Sachin Tendulkar, way back at Hyderabad in November. With four balls of his spell remaining, he was headed for a blank yet again, but then up popped Chris Cairns on the deep-midwicket boundary, and Harris became only the second player after Sanath Jayasuriya to reach the 4000-runs/200-wickets double in one-day internationals.
Harris is now 33, and this was his 244th match. It may yet prove to be his final act on an international cricket field. If so, it was a glorious way to bow out. The West Indians, however, might wonder if they could have grasped that sense of occasion in a similar manner.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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