Cricket: Hussain relishes Essex role as underdogs

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NASSER HUSSAIN linked up with the rest of his Essex team-mates yesterday happy to be put in the unusual position of underdog for today's Benson and Hedges Cup semi-final against Yorkshire.

The acting Essex captain, leading the side in the absence of Paul Prichard, is accustomed to his side being rated as favourites after a number of successful years in the domestic competitions.

But Hussain believes NatWest Trophy holders Essex will enter the Headingley showdown with the majority of pundits tipping Yorkshire.

"They are a very strong side and as an opposing captain I'm very surprised they haven't got to more finals in recent years," Hussain said.

But like all four captains plotting his semi-final strategy, Hussain has been forced to assess the rain factor and is likely to ban the high- jinks which are usually the norm in most dressing rooms during rain interruptions.

"Our particular side has had a lot of experience of semi-finals and quarter- finals over the past few years but at this stage anyone can beat anyone and it's really how you are on the day especially with a bit of rain around," he stressed.

To prepare themselves, Essex have already begun planning their strategy for a possible bowl-out - the competition's method for deciding a result after a wash-out - if both today and tomorrow's reserve day are rained off.

Yorkshire welcome back Australian batting star Darren Lehmann who missed the championship and Sunday League games against Leicestershire with a back problem.

Yorkshire skipper David Byas said: "We have reached semi-finals in recent years and lost and now we have to show that we have the mental toughness to go one better."

Defending champions Surrey go into the other semi-final with Leicestershire strengthened by the return of their England Test players.

Alec Stewart and Mark Butcher will be back as they aim to continue Surrey's unbeaten run in the B&H so far this season - winning all their group games before easily overcoming much-fancied Lancashire in the quarter-final.

But captain Adam Hollioake has warned against the dangers of complacency. "We mustn't be over confident. If that sets in you can get lazy and make mistakes."

The tie will be given added spice by the fact that Leicestershire will be led by Chris Lewis, who left Surrey at the end of last season.