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The inaugural NatWest Series was a resounding success for England, who claimed a one-day tournament for the first time since Adam Hollioake lifted the Champions Trophy at Sharjah in December 1997. Since then, England had not looked like winning anything, the nadir coming when they crashed out of the 1999 World Cup at the first hurdle. They were now pitted against West Indies - fallers at that same first fence - and Zimbabwe, who in 2000 had already lost limited-overs series against England at home and in the West Indies. This was not a contest between the titans of the one-day game. For all three sides, failure would signal crisis.
England would not have been thrilled with the scheduling: the tournament was timetabled to avoid a clash with Euro 2000, a soccer championship that dominated sports headlines in June. It made sense, but it meant interrupting the Test series against West Indies for a month after Lord's, where England had found their feet following a couple of poor matches. And selection was not straightforward: both Nasser Hussain and Nick Knight, who had forged a successful opening combination the previous winter, were out with hand injuries. In came Somerset left-hander Marcus Trescothick, while Alec Stewart was given the chance to revive a one-day career apparently ended by his sacking as captain after the World Cup fiasco. These two turned out to be the stars of the show, Stewart's abrupt change in fortune underlined by his being chosen to lead England in place of Hussain.
Initial signs were not good for England. They lost abjectly to Zimbabwe in their first game, would probably have suffered the same fate against West Indies in the next had rain not intervened, and Stewart seemed stuck on 12. At least by the third of his dozens, he was leading a winning team. Buoyed by the success of Trescothick - who hit 244 in his first four innings - England came back strongly and humbled both opponents, skittling Zimbabwe for 114 and crushing West Indies by ten wickets. The seamers formed a settled, efficient unit, profligate in nothing but dot balls, though it was Stewart who lorded it over the tournament's second half. He hit 408 at 81.60, following his 12s with 74 not out, 101, 100 not out and 97. For good measure, he equalled the record of six dismissals in a limited-overs international.
The pace-setters, however, were Zimbabwe, who coped admirably despite starting without front-line bowlers Heath Streak, Henry Olonga and Pommie Mbangwa, and qualified for the final halfway through the preliminaries. Their established batsmen did them proud, four - the Flowers, Neil Johnson and Alistair Campbell - passing 200 runs. Murray Goodwin was not far behind. Streak, once fit, took ten wickets at less than 20, while Grant Flower turned in a useful all-round performance. Zimbabwe steam-rollered England when they first met, but thereafter prospered only against West Indies.
West Indies were in a sorry state. The policy of resting Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh for alternate one-day tournaments came unstuck when Walsh injured his foot. With Ambrose back in the Caribbean, the West Indian attack was weak and ill-disciplined. All five main English bowlers cost lessthan four an over; by contrast, just one West Indian, part-time spinner Chris Gayle, squeezed under at 3.99. The batting was arguably even worse: Brian Lara hit three fifties without cutting loose, Sherwin Campbell managed a century, but in essence, that was it. They did win the last, dead preliminary match, largely by virtue of suicidal English batsmanship. It all confirmed that West Indian cricket was in deep crisis.
The competition was also memorable for the arrival of floodlit internationals in England and the use of three non-Test grounds for their first internationals outside the World Cup. Both ventures proved popular with spectators and NatWest, who continue their sponsorship of this tournament in 2001, when England, taking on Pakistan and Australia, face a stiffer test.
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