England, West Indies set for Champion finish
It's the ending no-one predicted but that won't matter to England and West Indies when they contest the Champions Trophy final on Saturday.
It's the ending no-one predicted but that won't matter to England and West Indies when they contest the Champions Trophy final here at The Oval on Saturday.
England have never won a major one-day tournament and this competition, the only event outside of the World Cup featuring all of the sport's leading 10 Test nations, is certainly that.
Meanwhile West Indies, beaten in the inaugural Champions Trophy final by South Africa in 1998, have not won an important limited overs competition since 1979 when they overwhelmed England to win their second World Cup in a one-sided Lord's showpiece.
The present day teams know each other well. Already this year they have played eight Tests - with England winning seven including a 4-0 whitewash on home soil earlier this season.
However, their 2004 one-day record is much closer with West Indies winning four times, England three and one no-result.
Most recently, West Indies won by seven wickets at Lord's in July to deny the hosts a place in the triangular series final, eventually won by New Zealand.
But as far as England coach Duncan Fletcher was concerned, his team's poor results during the series were largely due to the toss.
"I don't think we played that badly," Fletcher said. "The toss had a major influence on that series."
But England's one-day improvement has been down to more than luck.
The return to full fitness of key all-rounder Flintoff following an ankle injury has allowed England to field a limited overs side that closely resembles the Test team with the likes of Rikki Clarke and Ian Blackwell, as yet not very special one-day specialists, dropping out.
An altered England enjoyed a 2-1 warm-up series win against India, last year's World Cup finalists, earlier this month.
But the biggest boost of all came on Tuesday when a 14-match one-day losing streak against world champions Australia finally ended with a convincing six-wicket semi-final win at Edgbaston where captain Michael Vaughan made a one-day international best 86.
"It's a huge thing keeping the same side together. We did that in the Test side and now you see the one-day team settling down, they all understand the roles they must play," said Fletcher.
West Indies captain Brian Lara had to retire hurt Wednesday after being hit on the neck by a rising delivery from Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar during a seven-wicket semi-final win.
England's attack, fast bowler Stephen Harmison and Flintoff especially, have enjoyed success with the short ball against the talented left-hander already this season.
But Saturday's final is the ideal stage for Lara and coach Gus Logie said Thursday: "Brian being Brian he wants to play and lead the side and I'm not going to stand in his way."
Looking ahead he added: "Some had us down among the also-rans but we've been playing good one-day cricket."
West Indies undoubted strength is a batting line-up that also features the likes of Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
But the likes of medium-pacers Wavell Hinds and Dwayne Bravo could, if conditions are right, seize the limelight in the way that the unheralded duo of Roger Binny and Madan Lal did during India's 1983 World Cup final win against West Indies at Lord's.
"I'm not surprised how well England have done and it promises to be a great occasion," said Sarwan after scoring an unbeaten half century against a highly-fancied Pakistan.
"We did well against England in the NatWest series earlier this season and I would like to think we hold the psychological advantage."
The toss played a key role Wednesday, with Pakistan bowled out for 131 after Inzamam-ul-Haq opted to bat first.
But an intriguing final deserves better than being decided on the spin of a coin.