Fleming sets the winning platform

New Zealand 241 for 4 (Fleming 99, Marshall 55, Astle 53) beat England 237 for 7 (Flintoff 106, Strauss 61) by six wickets

Stephen Fleming, who fell agonisingly short of a well-deserved hundred, led New Zealand to a comprehensive six-wicket win over England in the seventh NatWest Series game at Bristol. After Andrew Flintoff had helped England to a respectable total of 237 for 7 with a sparkling 106, his maiden one-day century, Fleming secured his side's spot in the final with an impressive 99.

Fleming shared in stands of 122 with Nathan Astle and 104 with Hamish Marshall as the England attack struggled to make an impact. His partnership with Astle got New Zealand off to a perfect start and effectively sealed the match, and meant England now play West Indies on Tuesday to decide who will face New Zealand in the final.

Fleming was positive from the start. He cracked Stephen Harmison and Darren Gough for several boundaries in the first five overs, though the bowlers did beat the bat on the odd occasion. England had few chances early on, but, in the 10th over, Astle, then on 20, smashed Harmison in the air straight to Andrew Strauss at cover. He put the difficult catch down, and England had missed a chance for a vital early breakthrough.

Bar a late fall of wickets, it was plain sailing for New Zealand from then on. Sajid Mahmood struggled on his debut, and he went for 20 runs in his first three-over spell. After giving him a few overs' rest to calm his nerves, Michael Vaughan brought Mahmood back into the attack in the 21st over, but a dream debut eluded him. Astle greeted Mahmood by dancing down the wicket and lofting him over his head for four, as New Zealand were determined not to let him settle. Fleming then brought up his half-century, and New Zealand's 100, in the 23rd over with an uppercut off Mahmood.

England desperately needed a wicket, and just before the halfway mark, Vaughan was forced to recall Harmison. In his second over back, after dropping an easy caught-and-bowled chance, he beat Astle with a yorker that crashed into the middle and leg stumps (122 for 1). Once Harmison had provided the breakthrough, Vaughan replaced him with Gough, who kept the pressure on, but failed to take any further wickets.

The rain, which had been around before play started, returned at the end of the 36th over, with the score at 175 for 1, but it did not last long. When the players came back on, Marshall raced to his half-century, off only 47 balls, with a series of drives and improvised cuts, while Fleming, after playing the anchor role for most of the innings, pushed on to 98 with a six and a four off Paul Collingwood.

In the next over, though, Marshall was run out as Fleming attempted a tight single to reach his century (226 for 2). Scott Styris then didn't last long, chipping Collingwood to Marcus Trescothick at midwicket (227 for 3), then Fleming departed just one short of his hundred, lobbing a Collingwood slower ball to Andrew Strauss at midwicket (231 for 4).

For England, a 122-run partnership between Flintoff and Strauss was the highlight of the their innings, though both had tricky moments early on after another shaky start by the top order. Trescothick, who was dropped off the edge by Gareth Hopkins, the wicketkeeper, was then run out trying to get back for a second run. The ball had gone down to Ian Butler at third man, and Trescothick took on the arm, but the throw came in right over the stumps and he was run out (4 for 1).

Vaughan, who started carefully, was just starting to get in the groove, but he drove Jacob Oram straight into the chest of Chris Harris at cover point to depart for 12, and England had suffered another setback (35 for 2). Strauss joined Robert Key at the crease, and he was dropped on 1 in the 12th over, cutting Oram hard, but in the air, to Marshall at backward point - but he couldn't hold on.

Key edged Styris's first ball to Hopkins to depart for 19 after he had played well, and England were in some trouble at 57 for 3. In the same over, Flintoff was dropped on 0, but made full use of the life he was given. He was landed a nasty blow to the side of his helmet with a short, fast one from Butler that angled in sharply, but after that Flintoff and Strauss took their time to negotiate the seaming wicket and get England back on track.

They mixed solid defence with good attacking shots, but New Zealand finally broke the hundred partnership when Strauss, attempting to work Butler to fine leg, top-edged a steepling catch to Astle, running back from square leg (179 for 4). A raucous crowd cheered Flintoff on as he approached his milestone, and he scampered through for a single after playing the ball into the covers. He went on to 106, including 11 fours and two sixes, his boundaries coming all round the ground.

Collingwood fell after improvising 20 when he edged a reverse-pull off Oram to Hopkins (229 for 5). And after crashing a four and a two off the first two balls of the final over, Flintoff's entertaining innings came to an awkward end, when he was bowled moving across his stumps by Butler (235 for 6). It was an innings worthy of winning a match, but Fleming had other ideas.