Kevin Pietersen displayed a timely return to form to give England a pre-Ashes boost at the end of their Champions’ Trophy campaign.
Pietersen blasted an unbeaten 90 to guide Andrew Flintoff’s team to a three-wicket victory over holders West Indies under the Sardar Patel Stadium lights here on Saturday.
The 26-year-old reverted to number five in the batting order and excelled once again to score his first half-century in nine attempts at one-day international level.
His authoritative striking helped scythe down West Indies’ 272 for four with nine balls to spare and was reminiscent of his three centuries in South Africa two winters ago; his aggregate in 12 innings from third-wicket down is 698 runs at an average of 116.
It was also an opportune time to regain form by the man whose Oval century sealed the Ashes in 2005 — the first Test of the defence is less then four weeks away.
"Getting runs anywhere will stand you in good stead after you haven’t got many," Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, said.
"To get those runs like that, back to what he was before, is bound to give him a lot of confidence. It was good to see him play like I believe he should. He showed a little bit of patience early on and built his innings.
"We showed him some videos of what happened in South Africa when he took his time and batting at number five is useful for him.
"He was able to get momentum towards the end of his innings and he did that again here."
Captain Flintoff got through his pre-planned five overs with no ill effects — his first bowl in international cricket since June 4 — to add to the feelgood factor at the end of an otherwise disappointing trip to the sub-continent.
England have erred on the side of caution since Flintoff returned from ankle surgery, keen to ensure he is ready to operate in all-rounder capacity in the first Test match in Brisbane next month.
His two spells also gave England extra control through the power plays and towards the death.
"I asked him ‘how did you go?’ and he said he felt very comfortable; I am sure he could have bowled more overs so that is very good news," said Fletcher, after Flintoff’s first win in seven attempts as England’s one-day captain.
"It gives us lots of options and that is important when you go into a major tournament like the World Cup."
As expected Steve Harmison was dropped for the final group A match and his replacement Jon Lewis defied the heat to send down an impressive spell of 10-1-35-1 at the start of the innings.
It was quite a contrast to Harmison’s displays out here in
which he conceded 20 runs in his opening over against India and had return figures of 4.5-0-45-1 in defeat to Australia.
However, Fletcher is confident that any crisis of confidence will not spread to the Test scene.
He said: "Whenever you leave a player out it is the worst thing to do, it is very hard, especially for a coach or selector.
"We don’t take it lightly; we just felt he seemed to have lost his confidence and we probably needed Jon Lewis to tighten things up a bit.
"He knows he bowls a lot better in the Test matches, we have got warm-up games in Australia, he goes into the tour a lot fitter for being here and it is now important he gets some overs in because he is a very dangerous bowler in Test cricket."
When centurymakers Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo were in tandem it appeared England’s woeful limited-overs sequence was about to be extended to 20 defeats out of 25 completed contests against Test-class opposition.
But West Indies did not capitalise on their wickets in hand and wasted the new ball, allowing openers Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell to lay the platform with half-centuries apiece.
The match tilted the way of Brian Lara’s side when Flintoff and Paul Collingwood succumbed in one Gayle over. But that brought Pietersen to the crease and he kept his composure as wickets fell at the other end, making his decisive move when Sajid Mahmood joined him.
The feature of their unbroken 44-run stand, from only 23 deliveries, were two thunderous strokes through extra cover by Pietersen off successive balls from medium-pacer Bravo in the 48th over, the second of which clattered into the stands on the full to bring the scores level.n Bravo has been cleared of breaching the International Cricket Council code of conduct following the dismissal of England’s Michael Yardy.
Bravo was charged with failing to ‘conduct play within the spirit of the game’, when television replays showed the ball did not appear to carry to Bravo when Yardy was dismissed off Marlon Samuels. But ICC match referee Mike Procter said the disciplinary hearing accepted that it was a genuine mistake by the player.
England v West Indies, in Ahmedabad. West Indies won toss. England (2pts) beat West Indies (0pts) by three wickets.
C H Gayle run out …101
S Chanderpaul lbw b Lewis…13
D J Bravo not out …112
R Sarwan c Collingwood b Mahmood…29
* B C Lara b Mahmood…3
M N Samuels not out …3
Extras (lb1 w9 nb1) …11
Total (four wickets, 50 overs)…272
Fall of wickets: 35, 209, 259, 268.
Did not bat: R S Morton, F H Edwards, + C S Baugh, C D Collymore, J E Taylor.
Bowling: Anderson 10-0-72-0; Lewis 10-1-35-1; Flintoff 5-0-27-0; Mahmood 7-0-44-2; Yardy 5-1-32-0; Dalrymple 10-0-42-0; Collingwood 3-0-19-0.
A J Strauss b Gayle…50
I R Bell run out …50
* A Flintoff c Taylor b Gayle…25
P D Collingwood c Bravo b Gayle…0
K P Pietersen not out …90
M H Yardy c Bravo b Samuels…10
J W M Dalrymple b Samuels…8
+ C M W Read c Gayle b Bravo…4
S I Mahmood not out …14
Extras (lb11 w10 nb4) …25
Total (seven wickets, 48.3 overs)…276
Fall of wickets: 82, 126, 127, 162, 180, 214, 232.
Did not bat: J Lewis, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Edwards 7-0-56-0; Taylor 8.3-0-64-0; Collymore 10-1-43-0; Gayle 10-1-31-3; Samuels 10-0-45-2; Bravo 3-0-26-1.
Umpires: D J Harper and S J A Taufel (both Australia).