England hold on for one-run thriller
England 141 for 6 (Pietersen 44, Bell 37, S Ganga 4-23) beat Trinidad & Tobago 140 for 9 (Ramdin 37, Flintoff 3-30) by one run
If there was any thought that T&T would suffer a hangover from their success against Middlesex they were ill-founded and they once again put on a fine display. It was the perfect pressure-test for England ahead of the dart at millions and for a while during the closing overs it looked as though they would fail.
Misfields started to appear from England and Ian Bell dropped a high catch at long-on, but Flintoff performed his usual end-of-innings party trick before Harmison - who had earlier bowled the first maiden of the tournament - stepped up for the final over. He targeted yorkers and was largely on target, yet could do little about an audacious dab-sweep from Samuel Badree which left T&T needed four off two balls. A tie would have led to a Super Over contest - a one-over aside duel to decide the result - but Harmison conceded just two singles as Ravi Rampaul was run out off the last ball.
Four England players didn't even make it to the ground, meaning Alastair Cook and Ravi Boapra were handed unexpected chances along with the already announced recalls for Graeme Swann and Harmison. It made team selection easy, but left them with an unbalanced side. England used the opportunity to experiment ahead of the main event at the weekend, promoting Samit Patel to No.3 then throwing him the new ball in a repeat of T&T's tactics. Both were neither a major success or complete failure and at least Pietersen knows what is at his disposal and was able to witness his troops under some pressure.
Pietersen himself had stood out with his class during a 30-ball 44, after Daren Ganga missed a tough catch to remove him 8, as England put their foot down in the second half of their innings. Pietersen's effort was the most commanding innings of the week to date and showed how quality can overcome tricky conditions.
Given the trend of the previous matches their 141 looked more than par, especially on a pitch with increasing uneven bounce, where some deliveries climbed alarmingly from a ridge on a good length. It was a well-paced innings, anchored by Bell's sensible 37 from 41 balls before Pietersen provided the late impetus with three huge sixes between midwicket and long-on.
T&T, though, weren't going to die wondering. Justin Guillen was unlucky to be given out caught off his forearm, as umpire Asad Rauf decided against using the referral system. Lendl Simmons and the fearless Darren Bravo took on England's attack, as Flintoff conceded three fours off his first three balls, before both fell in the space of three deliveries.
Paul Collingwood showed the value of taking the pace off the ball during his economical four-over spell, which appeared to have given England some breathing space. Swann's performance didn't exactly cement his place for the big game, and Collingwood's value as a bowler could put pressure on him.
However, any hope England may have had of a comfortable finish vanished. Denesh Ramdin began to perform a repeat of his match-winning innings against Middlesex as he launched a late dart at the target. He crunched Harmison for a mighty six over long-on, only to fall later in the same over as he tried to chip over short fine-leg. He had got T&T close, although there was a little too much for the tail to do. England held on, but if they thought this was pressure wait until there's life-changing money at stake in three days time.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo