England keep Middlesex at bay
England's preparations for Saturday's $20m showdown with the Stanford Superstars began with a narrow 12-run victory over Middlesex in Antigua.
Opting to bat, their openers shared 43 inside eight overs but England found the pitch difficult and needed Owais Shah with 39 in 37 balls to make 121-4.
Middlesex were kept in touch by a stand of 62 from Ed Joyce and Dawid Malan.
Malan hit five fours and a six in 45no but the seamers kept things tight, Stuart Broad with 1-13 from four overs.
England, without the injured Steve Harmison, were happy to bat first and venerable Middlesex skipper Shaun Udal admitted he would have done the same, but it quickly became apparent that runs were not going to be easy to come by.
The slow surface was difficult enough, but the outfield compounded the problems, cleanly struck shots absorbed by the lush grass, like milk into a sponge.
Ian Bell drove the first ball beautifully down the ground for four, but only two more boundaries came in the next eight overs.
Bell, who survived a regulation slip catch to Murali Kartik in the third over, ran well with Prior before succumbing to a direct hit in the eighth over.
Udal and Kartik applied to brakes in the middle of the innings with some shrewd slow bowling.
In addition to his dropped catch, however, Kartik also inexplicably sent down three no-balls, but England scored only two runs from the four free hits they had in the innings.
Those errors aside, Kartik bowled expertly, and his classic left-arm spinner's delivery lured Kevin Pietersen out of his ground, the ball turning away to allow Ben Scott time to remove the bails and the dismissal to be confirmed without the need for a replay.
Andrew Flintoff, who arrived at the ground without his kit and had to bat in Harmison's shirt, batted rather more like the Durham paceman against Kartik's spin and should have been out without scoring.
He was also completely deceived in the flight and spooned a leading edge to short mid-wicket, but as he was turning for the pavilion, Andrew Strauss had the misfortune of dropping one of the easiest catches in the history of international cricket.
A rare full toss from Tim Murtagh allowed Shah to free his arms and swipe the first six and Flintoff launched a glorious drive over long-on for six more in the same over.
Middlesex dropped a total of four catches but Ed Joyce did hold on to one from Flintoff, managing to stay inches inside the rope on the boundary.
England needed a good start with the ball, but though Strauss lost his leg-stump swiping across the line at Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson appeared to have problems with his run-up.
Flintoff was excellent with the ball as always and should have had a wicket with his first ball, Paul Collingwood, usually the safest of fieldsmen, fumbling a sharp low chance at point.
Then Pietersen, having made good ground to get to a steepling top edge from Neil Carter off Stuart Broad, became the next in an astonishing number already in this series to spill a catch.
Carter was well taken on the mid-wicket fence by Samit Patel, and Broad continued the good work by England's two tall seamers by dismissing Eoin Morgan.
Middlesex had drifted but were content with Joyce and Malan at the crease
They needed 33 from the final 18 balls, 12 of which were available for Flintoff to bowl.
Anderson was entrusted with the penultimate over and had Joyce safely caught on the long-off boundary with 18 still needed.
In the end it was a relatively comfortable victory, but England will be aware that they need to sharpen up the batting and fielding before the big match next weekend.