Cricket: Essex draw a full house

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LEICESTERSHIRE, whose matches normally take place on the two's company, three's a crowd scale of attendance, find themselves planning for their second full house in a fortnight at Grace Road after yesterday's NatWest Trophy semi-final draw gave them a home tie against the competition's favourites Essex.

More than 5,000 people turned up for their quarter-final victory over Durham on Wednesday, which was not far short of capacity, and the club's extra seating plans for the Essex game on 12 August should bring that figure up close to 7,000. Leicestershire are also having to oil the turnstiles for Championship games, where spectators normally have a choice of stands, never mind seats.

Leicestershire are lying second to Essex in the Championship, having beaten them at Grace Road earlier this week. Their match-winner was the fast bowler David Millns, who missed the Durham game with a suspected stress fracture of the left foot, but Millns is cautiously optimistic of being fit for the semi-final.

Essex will also be anxious about the availability of their own leading bowler, Neil Foster, who went into hospital for an exploratory knee operation yesterday. Foster's knees have spent so much time under the knife that it is a wonder he can make it across the road unaided, never mind get through the number of overs he does, and his absence would be a big handicap to them on Wednesday week.

Essex are certain to be without Mark Waugh, who has now left to join Australia's squad, and Leicestershire will regard an Essex side without Waugh and Foster as eminently beatable on their own patch. The visitors, however, with Graham Gooch in imperious touch once again, will start this game a shade of odds-on.

Leicestershire last won a trophy in 1985, when David Gower led them to victory over Essex in the Benson and Hedges Cup final. Before then, you have to go back to the Seventies, and the Raymond Illingworth era, when crowds flocked to Grace Road to watch one of the country's most successful teams. The Durham match, with Illy back there in his commentator's capacity, and the crowd invading the field at the end, was heavy with nostalgia.

Of the four sides remaining, Leicestershire are the only one never to have won the 60-over competition. In fact, they are the only side, along with Durham, never to have made the final. On the two previous occasions they have reached the last four, they lost to Glamorgan in 1977, and Northamptonshire in 1987.

Northamptonshire are in the semi-final for the third consecutive season and will be marginal favourites to beat Warwickshire despite having to travel to Edgbaston. Last year, they were eliminated by Surrey at The Oval, when Waqar Younis took 5 for 40, and this time they will have to negotiate another express bowler in Allan Donald.

However, Warwickshire, who were also beaten at this stage last year, might be dissuaded from preparing anything too lively, given that Northamptonshire have their own deterrent in Curtly Ambrose. It is probably beyond them anyway.

Cheshire's captain Ian Cockbain led the Minor Counties to a famous victory over the Pakistanis at Marlow yesterday. Cockbain, who scored 87 from only 61 balls, dispatched the final two balls of the match, from Aamir Sohail, for four to secure a one-wicket win, only the third defeat of the Pakistanis' tour.