Collingwood steadies English ship

ENGLAND recovered from a shaky start against the part-timers of Ireland to post a competitive target in the Super Eight match at the Providence Stadium yesterday.

Deciding to bat first against Ireland and needing victory to launch their Super Eight campaign, England lost early wickets to 6ft 8in Derbyshire recruit Boyd Rankin and then struggled to score on a slow pitch.

But a stunning innings of 90 from Paul Collingwood and further contributions of 48 from Kevin Pietersen and 43 from Andrew Flintoff ensured that England reached a challenging 266 for seven in their 50 overs.

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Anxious to avoid the humiliation of defeat against an Irish squad containing 12 amateurs, England made a desperate start with Ed Joyce falling to the seventh legitimate ball of the innings.

Aiming to score his third successive half-century against his former team-mates, Joyce totally mis-read a full-length delivery from Rankin and shouldered arms only for the ball to nip back slightly and knock back his off-stump.

Rankin claimed his second scalp during an impressive opening spell of 5-1-22-2 with captain Michael Vaughan, who is yet to score a half-century for England since his return from a year-long absence with injury, edging behind for six.

At 23 for two, England were in danger of suffering a grave embarrassment when Pietersen, recently installed as the number one one-day batsman in the world rankings, strode to the crease.

He signalled his intentions by seizing on a short ball from Rankin early in his innings and pulling it over mid-wicket for four, and when captain Trent Johnston brought himself into the attack in the 12th over, hammered 14 off his opening over.

But with Ian Bell desperately scratching around for form and stealing a majority of the strike, both England and Pietersen lost their momentum.

During the last five overs of the power-plays, Bell and Pietersen were able to add only 12 runs and it was only two overs later when the Warwickshire batsman's discomfort was ended by seamer Kevin O'Brien.

Attempting a late cut, Bell instead edged the ball behind to O'Brien's brother Niall after he had struggled to 31 off 74 balls on a pitch getting slower and slower.

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Pietersen attempted to force the pace, but was caught two runs short of a deserved half-century when he came down the wicket to off-spinner Kyle McCallan and was caught low at short mid-wicket.

Deprived of Pietersen's urgency - he scored at more than a run a ball during his 48 - England were reliant on Collingwood and Flintoff, their two most experienced players, to guide them to a respectable total.

Flintoff drove his first delivery through the covers for four, but he also found scoring difficult during his 62-ball innings. The Lancastrian added 81 with Collingwood in a partnership spanning 17 overs, but just as the pair were about to accelerate during the final overs, Flintoff chopped Johnston onto his stumps for 43.

It was left to Collingwood, the man mainly responsible for England's stunning Commonwealth Bank series success down under in February, to propel them forward.

The Durham all-rounder helped add 94 in the final 10 overs, 65 of them in the last five, with the help of useful cameo innings from wicketkeeper Paul Nixon and Ravi Bopara.

Collingwood was run out going for a quick two with three balls to spare having hit eight fours and three sixes in his superb 90 off 82 balls to ensure England reached a competitive total after all.

In reply, Ireland themselves got off to the worst possible start as they lost two wickets within the first four overs to find themselves on 11 for 2, and with a mountain to climb.

In the first over from James Anderson, opener William Porterfield got Ireland off the mark with a clip off his legs for three but then, after facing three leg-side wides, fellow opener Jeremy Bray carved the first legitimate delivery he faced to Bopara who took a sharp catch at backward point.

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Sharing the new ball with Anderson, Sajid Mahmood began his spell with a maiden, and then in the fourth over, the Lancashire man reacted sharply to field a Porterfield stroke off his own bowling, managing to throw down the stumps at the striker's end with a direct hit, running out the unfortunate Eoin Morgan for 2.

Porterfield and wicket-keeper Niall O'Brien then set about repairing the damage, and the pair put on a valuable 50 partnership in good time before Porterfield fell to Flintoff in the 19th over, a leading edge providing a straightforward catch for Bell at short cover.

After Porterfield departed for a creditable 31, the South Africa-born Andrew Botha went out to join O'Brien in the middle and after 20 overs Ireland were precariously placed at 77 for 3, with O'Brien not out on 34.