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England XI v Middlesex, Antigua

Bowlers spare England's blushes

The Bulletin by Martin Williamson

October 26, 2008

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England 121 for 4 (Shah 39*) beat Middlesex 109 for 4 (Malan 44*) by 12 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary


Ian Bell is run-out by a direct hit from Neil Carter © Getty Images
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England beat Middlesex by 12 runs in their opening warm-up ahead of Saturday's $20 million match, but it was a poor performance and they relied on some excellent bowling from Stuart Broad and Andrew Flintoff to get them out of jail after a turgid display with the bat.

Their batsmen looked rusty, with none of them really timing the ball and there were only two sixes and five fours in an innings of 121 for 4. The conditions did not make for easy scoring, but even allowing for that, it was a pretty ordinary display and one which will certainly not please the players' bank managers - or wives - if repeated next weekend.

All the batsmen got started, other than Kevin Pietersen who perished for a laboured 5 giving Murali Kartik a rather reckless charge, but none of them threatened to grab the bowling by the scruff of the neck. Owais Shah played a few genuine shots and was the only batsman to manage more than a run-a-ball, and it took some late pyrotechnics from him and Flintoff to give the score some kind of respectability. The hundred did not come up until the 17th over, which yielded the only two sixes of the innings, the first from Shah waking up the WAGS in their VIP enclosure, the second from Flintoff a crisp straight drive. It was, however, the storm between the lulls.

The pitch, which was trumpeted in the considerable pre-tournament hype as being one to suit batsmen, was again slow and low, favouring the straight hitters, and the outfield sluggish. Unless it quickens up and hardens in the next few days, anything over 150 will take some chasing.

Middlesex found the going just as hard when their turn to bat came, and they were behind the asking rate from the off. Andrew Strauss, who earlier had dropped what was quite possibly the easiest catch you are ever likely to see, was bowled playing an ugly heave, as England's seamers strangled the top of the order. Broad maintained his back-of-a-length line, forcing the batsmen onto the back foot, while Flintoff at the end unleashed his unerring blockhole-jarring deliveries.

Ed Joyce and Dawid Malan, the pick of the batsmen, kept the innings chugging along with a stand of 62 in nine overs, but the required rate teasingly eased away from them and despite what appeared a close margin of victory, England strolled through the last few overs.

Middlesex's spin duo of Shaun Udal and Kartik, who chocked the life out of the middle of the England innings, showed the value of slow bowling in this format on this pitch. Pietersen relied more on pace in this game, but the England management were certainly given some foot for thought in that regard. Pietersen himself filled a slow-bowling role here, but he was one of the few bowlers who came in for some tap.

One of the talking points to have emerged from the first two games is the catching, and it was again appalling. Had Middlesex held their chances then England might well have been embarrassed, but England too, even the ultra reliable Paul Collingwood, found the ball took on the qualities of a greased pig when in the air. On the field, in keeping with the general tone of the game, there was little anger as chance after chance went down, but the sight of England back out practising taking steeplers out of the lights as the crowd drifted home showed that it is a facet of their game which is a worry.

One potential banana skin is out of the way for England, but from here on in things will get much tougher as they chase cricket's Holy Grail.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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