England 121-4 (Shah 39no, Kartik 2-27) beat
Middlesex 109-4 (Malan 41no, Sidebottom 1-5, Broad 1-13) by 12 runs
Stanford Super Series Game 2, Antigua
Seldom can the adage 'catches win matches' have rung truer as England defended 121 to beat Middlesex by 12 runs in their Stanford Super Series match in Antigua.
Middlesex dropped four catches and conceded four no balls as England made 121 for four while England held on to most that came their way and bowled superbly at the death to restrict Middlesex to 109 for four.
Owais Shah was his side's top scorer as the first innings was more comedy of errors than superstars providing cricketainment although Middlesex's spinners, as expected, were top drawer and gave their side every chance of pulling off a victory.
|Owais Shah hits out for England.||© Brookes La Touche Photography|
After winning the toss and choosing to bat, Ian Bell (23) and Matthew Prior (29) made a steady start with Bell driving the first ball of the game straight down the ground for a boundary. That was followed by Murali Kartik dropping the simplest of slip chances and Eoin Morgan and Steven Finn contriving to not run out Prior when he was well short.
No problem for reigning Twenty20 Cup champions Middlesex, who promptly had Bell run out the very next ball and it wasn't even close - Neil Carter's measured throw finding its target at the bowler's end. Prior was then bowled by Murali Kartik as Middlesex strangled England, just as they have been doing to their domestic opponents all season, with spinners Kartik, Shaun Udal and Dawid Malan drying up the runs with sharp turn and clever variations.
Prior tried to cut a ball that went straight on before Kevin Pietersen (five) was stumped, beaten in the flight and even the three free hits offered by Kartik were not taken advantage of.
Andrew Strauss then took his eye of the ball and failed to hold the easiest chance he will ever have the opportunity of taking, Andrew Flintoff the mightily relieved and amused batsman who had chipped Udal straight up in the air.
Ed Joyce was the next culprit when he dropped Shah in the deep and even when Flintoff was held on the boundary by Morgan, the match was delayed as Morgan appeared not to have claimed the catch or indicated that he had stepped over the rope. One way or another, Flintoff was eventually adjudged to be out, gone for 16.
Both he and Shah had managed to hit Murtagh, also the next man to spill a catch, for big sixes in the 18th over before England's innings petered out, Shah unable to connect with anything in the slog overs to remain unbeaten on 39.
Chasing a modest target, Middlesex's game plan was to play normal cricket shots on a slow pitch and then assess the situation with five overs to go. Perhaps Strauss and Carter weren't listening as after both got off the mark with boundaries, Strauss was clean bowled by Ryan Sidebottom trying an ugly heave across the line and as England offered Carter nothing in his half, he was unable to find a way round the problem and was eventually well caught in the deep by Samit Patel off of Flintoff.
He had made 11 from 27 balls and once he departed, England didn't drop another clear-cut chance and that proved to be the difference. The chance had gone down was a running chance to Pietersen in the deep although Paul Collingwood will be disappointed to have missed a couple of half-chances at backward point.
After Stuart Broad, Sidebottom and Flintoff had kept things exceptionally tight first up, Pietersen brought himself on and he bowled tidily although both Dawid Malan and Joyce smashed him down the ground for maximums.
After Morgan was safely held by Anderson to give Broad a deserved wicket, Joyce and Malan played to the game plan, despite the run rate required creeping up past the nine mark.
Malan, who closed unbeaten on 41, pulled out a reverse sweep for four to bring up Middlesex's half-century and the pair added a half-century partnership of their own but once England's spinners had done their work, their death bowling was just as inspired.
Anderson and Flintoff bowled yorkers to order and even Malan was powerless, although he did hit Anderson through the covers to keep Middlesex's hopes alive. Joyce (33) was out to the last ball of the penultimate over, leaving Malan off strike and needing 18 to win.
It was a no-contest. Flintoff's yorkers gave Neil Dexter and Malan nothing to hit and England took the win, albeit one which Pietersen admitted left plenty of room to improve.
Middlesex now prepare for their showpiece match against Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow, and after running and bowling far better than Trinidad and Tobago did yesterday, they go into the match favourites, but again, all could come down to who catches better on the day.
© Cricket World 2008