Cricket: Big guns primed for battle in the B&H quarter-finals

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BENSON AND HEDGES can have no complaints about the quality of the quarter-final line-up for the last year of a competition they have supported since its inception in 1972.

Lancashire, Leicestershire and Kent, the three most successful counties with 10 victories between them, have safely negotiated the group stage again and, with respect to Durham's chances against Yorkshire at Headingley, only one of Wednesday's four ties is even remotely easy to forecast.

Lancashire, winners four times, face the holders, Surrey, at The Oval in what is marginally the tie of the round but Leicestershire's game against last year's runners-up, Kent, runs it a close second while Middlesex against Essex at Lord's represents a reprise of the 1983 final and 1985 semi-final and a 16th meeting between the metropolitan rivals.

Despite the strength of Surrey's line-up and the presumed eagerness of the two England captains, Alec Stewart and Adam Hollioake, to return to a level of competition in which they have a chance of winning, their tie looks too close to call. However, Kent's chances of negotiating their visit to Grace Road successfully have improved with a run of ill luck afflicting Leicestershire.

Still without their captain, James Whitaker, who faces the prospect of missing the best part of the season, Leicestershire could be missing three- quarters of their pace attack.

Chris Lewis reported back from England duty yesterday with a hip injury to find that team-mate David Millns was still in hospital being treated for an ear infection. James Ormond, missing since the start of the season because of an abcess on his back, is unlikely to be risked.

Close scrutiny of the fixture programme is essential this season with no one week resembling another. The AXA League programme, staged on Tuesday last week, takes place today, while the next round of Britannic Assurance matches starts on Friday instead of the original Thursday.