England sneak home
England survived a late assault from Dawid Malan to register a tense 12-run victory over Middlesex in their opening match of the Stanford Super Series.
Despite posting a seemingly below-par 121 for four at the Stanford Cricket Ground, the national side avoided a potential slip-up against the English Twenty20 Cup winners courtesy of an exceptional bowling display.
Stuart Broad was at the forefront of a hugely disciplined performance with the ball that topped Middlesex’s admirable effort earlier on, although those expecting a high-scoring encounter would have been disappointed to witness a surface weighted heavily in favour of the bowlers.
Ryan Sidebottom’s two overs cost just five runs, Samit Patel also prospered with his left-arm spin, and Andrew Flintoff snuffed out the dwinding threat of defeat by restricting Middlesex to only five off the final over, which they began needing 18 to win.
Malan ended unbeaten on 41 off 33 balls - he enhanced his burgeoning reputation by producing the most fluent batting of the match - but England withstood some noticeably clean hitting to register a morale-boosting victory in the build-up to next Saturday’s $20million match against the Stanford Superstars.
Broad’s success mirrored that of Middlesex captain and off-spinner Shaun Udal, who conceded only 14 runs from four overs, while slow left-armer Murali Kartik prospered to the tune of 2-27.
They helped restrict England to five fours and two sixes in their innings, yet that merely underlined the importance of Owais Shah’s 39 not out off 37 deliveries.
His contribution, allied to some lusty blows from Andrew Flintoff late on, ultimately proved decisive, although the fact that Middlesex spilled six catches and England three suggests both sides have much to work on in the coming days.
Shah profited more than most, capitalising on two drops to play the most valuable innings of the match, but England failed to build fully on an opening stand of 43 between Matt Prior and Ian Bell, who made 29 and 23 respectively.
Bell, who had struck the first ball of the game regally back past Tim Murtagh’s right boot, was put down by Kartik at first slip, then caught off a free hit, and rarely looked fluent in the seven overs he was at the crease.
While his and Prior's desire to pinch quick singles was laudible, Bell’s lack of urgency in grounding his bat after tickling Udal to fine-leg cost him his wicket as Neil Carter threw down the stumps at the non-striker’s end.
The scoreboard read just 59 after 10 overs, and the pressure eventually told on Prior who was bowled by Kartik making room to cut.
Kevin Pietersen fell to the same bowler - beaten by significant turn and comfortably stumped by Ben Scott - and England were thankful for an almost comical drop by Andrew Strauss to reprieve Flintoff before he had scored.
So tame was Flintoff’s leading edge to short midwicket off Udal that he was subconsciously well on the way to the pavilion by the time Strauss - to his and his team-mates’ dismay - grassed the sort of chance that is taken in under-9s cricket as a matter of course.
It came during a spell of four overs that yielded just 14 runs, and sapped much of the momentum out of an already stuttering innings.
Shah, too, was put down - Ed Joyce the culprit at deep midwicket - although he swung a Murtagh full toss for six in the same over that Flintoff cleared the long-on fence to boost a flagging run-rate.
There was still time for Murtagh to spill Shah at long-off, and it was not until the penultimate over of the England innings that a Middlesex player held a catch, Eoin Morgan just managing to stay inside the boundary at long-off to account for Flintoff off Neil Carter.
Middlesex’s innings was equally lacking in fluency, particularly early on when Carter - signed on loan from Warwickshire and sent in up the order as a pinch-hitter, laboured 27 balls over his 11.
Peppered with bouncers, Carter finally succumbed to a top-edged pull off Flintoff to deep fine-leg, by which time Strauss had been bowled aiming an ugly heave at Ryan Sidebottom.
Morgan perished giving the aggressive Broad the charge, and Paul Collingwood failed to cling on to a sharp chance at backward point off the next delivery to reprieve Joyce for a second time.
Malan did his best to keep Middlesex in touch with an escalating run-rate by hitting Pietersen for two gloriously straight sixes, adding 62 with Joyce for the fourth wicket.
But Patel and Flintoff bowled with such control that by the time Joyce lofted the final ball of the 19th over to long-off, England had long since completed the transformation from outsiders to firm favourites.