Breathtaking finish - Stewart's gallant innings is not enough
Ramnaresh Sarwan - promise of greatness
Photo © AllSport
Alec Stewart's gallant century was not enough to stop West Indies winning by three runs in a breathtaking finish to the last qualifying match before the final of the NatWest Series.
In the closest finish to a game in this series, West Indies kept their nerve as England's batsmen scrambled for runs in the final over. Stewart, whose brilliant batting form has continued, bringing him a second successive century, and becoming only the fifth England player to do so in limited-overs cricket, guided his side throughout the innings, chasing a modest target of 196.
King's decisive spell
England began well, putting on 46 for the opening wicket but then began an extraordinary collapse with first four wickets falling in a space of ten runs. The damage was done by fast bowler Reon King who took three wickets for two runs in nine deliveries.
As England looked for quick singles, they lost Graham Thorpe and Craig White to run-outs and in between those Nasser Hussain was unfortunate to be given out caught behind to a ball that he appeared to have missed.
But needing eight runs with three overs and three wickets remaining, victory should have been a formality for England.
However, the drama was saved for the final over with England on 191 for seven, needing five for victory and Stewart in such superb form. West Indies relied on off-spinner Chris Gayle to bowl that vital over and he did the trick for them.
On his first ball Paul Franks, making his One-Day International debut, was run out from a direct hit to the bowlers end and then after a leg-bye, Darren Gough missed an overpitched delivery and was bowled.
Stewart kept from strike as West Indies strike for victory
Finally, after Allan Mullally had played one ball, Gayle trapped him leg before wicket. Three runs short and a ball to spare, England had conceded defeat.
Sadly for England Stewart had faced only one of the last nine balls.
Earlier, West Indies had found runs hard to come by after being put in to bat. The absence of their premier batsmen, Brian Lara, with a hamstring strain did not help matters. Even though he has not been in sparkling form by his lofty standards, he has, with an aggregate of 204 in this series, scored more than any of his team-mates and averages 51.
Sarwan - proven record
and he is still only twenty
His omission from the side presented an opportunity for Ramnaresh Sarwan to make his debut in One-Day Internationals. His contribution today was a modest 20 but great things are expected from this young man who turned twenty only a month ago. At fifteen, he was the youngest in West Indies to make a first-class debut and was most impressive in his first Test innings, scoring 84 against a superb Pakistan attack, in the recent series in the Caribbean.
His centuries in each innings for the President's eleven against Zimbabwe, prior to the series with Pakistan, would also have been in the minds of the selectors when deciding the squad for the current tour of England.
Sarwan came in when West Indies were three wickets down for 70, after they had appeared to be going well on 63 for one. But soon after that Mark Ealham struck twice for England, with Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle, the top scorer with 37, departing in successive overs from the medium-pacer.
Ready now for Saturday showdown
England's bowlers maintained the pressure throughout the innings and Craig White turned in another fine bowling performance, his second in successive matches, finishing with three for 35 after his three for 34 two days ago against Zimbabwe at Old Trafford.
The stage is now set for the final showdown in the NatWest Series between England and Zimbabwe at Lord's on Saturday.