England cruise to easy win
England began the frantic scramble for Sir Allen Stanford's millions by completing an emphatic NatWest International Twenty20 victory over New Zealand.
Just 48 hours after the announcement of England's annual winner-takes-all match in Antigua against a West Indies all-stars side financed by Stanford's fortune, the official scramble for a place on the plane began at Old Trafford tonight.
Playing the first of only two scheduled international Twenty20 games before the November 1 Stanford showdown, when each player stands to earn £500,000 if they are successful, the pressure was on to deliver and secure their share of the jackpot.
But rather than wilt under the pressure to perform, England thrived on the extra expectations and raced to a nine-wicket victory over the tourists with 15 balls to spare in front of a capacity Old Trafford crowd.
Knowing the stakes were suddenly that much higher seemed to instil England with a greater sense of purpose and after restricting New Zealand to 123 for nine, they cruised to victory with Ian Bell emerging from his struggles during the Test series to finish unbeaten on 60 off only 46 balls.
It was just the response the England and Wales Cricket Board would have hoped for having struck the deal which could make this generation of England cricketers richer than any of their predecessors.
Pre-match concerns that the lure of money may distract and inhibit their performance could not have been further off track with England's attack, which was without Ryan Sidebottom after he was rested, setting the tone from the start.
Facing the considerable talents of hard-hitting opener Brendon McCullum, who established his reputation with a breathtaking innings of 159 off 73 balls in the opening match of the Indian Premier League earlier this year, England successfully restricted him to take an early stranglehold on the match.
They were aided in their task by McCullum only facing two balls in the first three overs, he took nine balls and 26 minutes to get off the mark and by the time he did get into the groove New Zealand were already battling to overcome the loss of early wickets.
James Anderson set the tone by dismissing opener Jamie How, caught at slip driving, with his first delivery and Stuart Broad followed suit by dismissing James Marshall in the third over when he edged behind.
Ross Taylor briefly halted New Zealand's capitulation with a quickfire 25, which included three fours and two sixes, but when captain Paul Collingwood breached his defences and bowled him as he pushed forward in the eighth over, England's chances of chasing a major total seemed unlikely.
There was always the danger of McCullum to counter, however, and he looked ready to launch a counter-attack after finally registering his first boundary in the 10th over by cutting Collingwood for four.
McCullum followed that by pulling Luke Wright for his only six but the Sussex all-rounder demonstrated his growing ability with the ball by yorking him later in the same over for 24 off 23 balls.
Unable to build any partnerships of note, New Zealand began to lose wickets at an increasingly frantic rate with Peter Fulton - drafted in at late notice after Jacob Oram injured his left hamstring in the warm-up - suffered a second ball duck when he was bowled by a turning delivery from off-spinner Graeme Swann.
Daniel Flynn contributed a useful 23 off 19 balls to help New Zealand at least reach three figures, but it was still their lowest total in 15 Twenty20 Internationals.
Chasing such a modest target was perhaps the best possible way to bed in England's 10th different opening partnership in just 14 Twenty20 internationals with Warwickshire batsman Bell being promoted to partner Wright at the top of the order.
Their styles differed greatly with Bell preferring to concentrate on traditional cricket shots while Wright relied on slogging during an opening partnership of 48 off just 5.3 overs.
Man of the match Bell looked the more cultured of the pair although Wright was no less effective and bludgeoned his way to 24 off 18 balls when he pulled seamer Michael Mason's third delivery and was caught in the deep.
His demise brought Kevin Pietersen out into the middle to join Bell but it was a partnership which was almost ended immediately with New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori almost striking in the next over.
Stretching forward to try and push onto the on-side, Pietersen instead gave a leading edge back above Vettori's head and although he got one hand to it, he was unable to hold the chance.
That was New Zealand's last chance of salvaging an unexpected victory with Pietersen and Bell combining in an unbroken 79-run partnership in 12 overs to condemn the tourists to their seventh successive Twenty20 International defeat.