Flawed selection and flawed batting meant that England failed to qualify for their own final for the second time since the NatWest Series began in 2000. It was a dismal effort by the hosts and, despite the clear supremacy of New Zealand, who completed only their third tournament win, a poor competition all round. Three of the nine group games were washed out and the remaining six were won by the side batting second. Only a wonderful match between England and West Indies at Lord's saved the event from being a total dud.
That contest was illuminated by a blistering hundred from Andrew Flintoff, which underlined how much England had come to rely on him. During his absence they lost horribly to both West Indies and New Zealand inside three days, when they were dismissed for a combined total of 248 runs. Initially ruled out of the series because of a bone spur on his left ankle, Flintoff was hastily recalled as a batsman only, with England denying that his early return would compromise a full recovery.
A world-class all-rounder balances a side, and the selectors were unable to conjure a plausible team even when they had half of him. Their attempts - a combination of Anthony McGrath, Ian Blackwell and Rikki Clarke - created more holes than they filled. The spare batsman, Robert Key, was a top-three rather than a middle-order player, so the experiment of using Geraint Jones at No. 3 was abandoned after two innings to accommodate him. This brought further criticism: if the wicket-keeper was to bat No. 7, then why ditch Chris Read after his success in the Caribbean two months earlier? The construction of the squad lacked foresight.
Problems also existed at the top of the order. A game did not pass without the captain, Michael Vaughan, being asked whether he intended to continue as an opener. He fell to a series of shots that were either ill-judged or badly executed, and his highest score in five innings was 14. Meanwhile, Marcus Trescothick, England's best one-day batsman, passed that only once. Flintoff notwithstanding, the biggest success was Steve Harmison, whose emergence in the shorter game astonished those who recalled his wayward bowling on the 2002-03 Ashes tour.
England coach Duncan Fletcher pointed once again, with some validity, to inexperience. It could not be coincidence that New Zealand included six players with 100 or more one-day appearances, and England only one: Darren Gough. During the tournament, Chris Gayle, the top run-scorer with 276, became the fourth member of the West Indies squad to reach that landmark. However, there were also good contributions from players such as Andrew Strauss, Hamish Marshall and Dwayne Bravo (the leading wicket-taker with ten), who were in the early stages of their international careers.
New Zealand entered the tournament with heavy one-day series victories against Pakistan and South Africa to their credit. By the end, they had won 13 of their last 15 completed one-day matches. The top three of Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle and Marshall scored 614 runs between them, and Jacob Oram, after a disappointing Test series, proved a consistent threat with the new ball. Their running between the wickets and fielding were rarely less than exemplary, not least in the final.
On that occasion, West Indies were made to look shoddy. Overall, though, Brian Lara could draw satisfaction at reaching a showpiece early in the tour, in what were alien conditions to a number of his squad. Like England, West Indies were forced to alter their batting order as Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Smith struggled to counter early movement and bounce. But Ramnaresh Sarwan confirmed his reputation as one of the best middle-order batsmen of his type in the world, and a young bowling attack showed considerable promise in between occasional bouts of waywardness.
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