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News

More than just an academic victory

England have survived their first pressure test - but only just


England's efforts were stoical rather than spectacular, and yet the will to win proved sufficient in the final reckoning © AFP
 
England have survived their first pressure test - but only just. There was nothing at stake but pride in this evening's encounter with Trinidad & Tobago, but happily for their prospects of scooping the jackpot on Saturday night, that alone proved sufficient to overcome the advance of a competitive T&T team.
With four men on their sickbeds and two more - including Andrew Flintoff - looking far from a million dollars, England dug deep and held on for a win that matters more than the academic nature of the contest would suggest. "You always want to win a fixture for England, but what will be, will be," their captain Kevin Pietersen said.
Pietersen has repeated that mantra ad nauseam ever since the tournament got underway, but on this evidence the trance-like assertion that Saturday is just another game might yet stand England in good stead. Their efforts today were stoical rather than spectacular, and yet the will to win proved sufficient in the final reckoning.
"It was a good game of cricket," Pietersen said. "The guys came out and played nicely - hit some sixes, hit some boundaries - and we definitely thought we had [scored] enough. But with four guys sick at home and Freddie (Flintoff) on his last legs, it just a case of getting the boys right for Saturday. He did the job tonight, so there's no problem."
Pietersen was adamant there would be no concerns about England's wellbeing come the big night - "There won't be too many missing the bus on Saturday," he said - but the timing of the stomach bug that has swept their ranks is awkward to say the least. "Yes, there's a lot of dosh at stake, but it's just like any other game," said Pietersen. "We're not going to take people on to the park who are not fit to play for England."
Strong words, but surely hollow on this occasion. It's hard to see the Middlesex duo of Dawid Malan and Steve Finn, who stood in as 12th and 13th men because of the virus, stepping any closer to a share of Stanford's millions.
Having said that, however, few would have imagined back in June, when the 20/20 for 20 was unveiled, that Nottinghamshire's Samit Patel would be among the first names on England's team-sheet. He was in the thick of the action throughout, with a well-paced cameo of 17 at No. 3, four tidy overs of spin after taking the new ball as an experiment, and run-out to boot.
 
 
Who, though, will miss out if Swann is deemed to be an essential selection? It's not a decision that Pietersen is looking forward to making, and James Anderson in particular is bracing himself for the chop
 
A missed return catch spoiled his night a touch, but Pietersen was effusive in his praise of a player who could have a critical role in turning his team-mates into rich men on Saturday. "I was going to give him the captaincy in the second half," Pietersen joked. "The little lad loves it. He's got a good head on his shoulders, and he's full of confidence. I'm happy with the boy."
Another man who is rarely anything less than cheerful is Patel's spin colleague, Graeme Swann, whom Pietersen conceded was almost assured of a starting role given the turgid nature of the pitch. If it wasn't for the fact that money is the root of all evil, it could be said that there is something faintly biblical about the journey he has taken to reach this stage of his career. After seven years in the international wilderness, he is now just three playing hours away from a dividend beyond his wildest dreams.
"When the game was first announced I don't think anyone took it seriously, least of all the players," Swann said. "I remember thinking that would be incredible if it happened but a lot of people are pinching themselves that they are here, especially in the current financial climate. You've got to be humble about it, it's a privileged position but we haven't chosen to be selected. When you get picked for England, especially in my position, you just enjoy playing."
Swann's two overs were not a roaring success, but he held his nerve when it mattered, as Daren Ganga swatted a fast, flat catch down his throat at deep square-leg. "When you're out there, you forget where you are and what you're doing, you just get taken away by the competitive nature that you find within yourself," he said. "Some of the biggest games I've played I've found to be the easiest. You forget yourself and why and who you are anyway.
"The hardest games of cricket I find are on a cold Tuesday in June, when you're away at Derby and it's freezing. And there's nothing on the game. I find those almost impossible to pick yourself up for. But this is massively high-profile and you find yourself so pumped up. So far we've not won anything, but if we lose, at least we've got a free holiday in 30-degree heat, so it's a pretty decent spot to be in."
Who, though, will miss out if Swann is deemed to be an essential selection? It's not a decision that Pietersen is looking forward to making, and James Anderson in particular is bracing himself for the chop. One man, however, whose opinion might be worth gauging is the Man of the Tournament so far. Denesh Ramdin should really have been in the Superstars squad, but instead he has settled for making the lives of all his opponents as tricky as possible.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo