Flintoff can fill his boots and raise English spirits

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The Independent Online

Tim Murtagh and Nayan Doshi have played leading roles for Surrey in their qualification for domestic cricket's most popular and exciting event and will face the Lancashire all-rounder in the first semi-final, but would be the first to admit their skills are not yet comparable with those of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

Flintoff's involvement in the day has been questioned in some quarters but the, 'it does not matter if I get out, slog it out of the ground' approach that Twenty20 demands could be just what he requires. The fixture list and the gluttony of England's top five batsmen against Bangladesh limited his opportunities to bat during the first half of the summer, and in the first Test against Australia he looked a pale imitation of the player we have come to love.

The exceptional batting of Kevin Pietersen has stolen a significant portion of Flintoff's kudos. It is the Hampshire star, and not Flintoff, who now gets the biggest cheer of the day, and this change appears to have subdued the 27-year-old.

Flintoff's technique is far from perfect but he has been able to overcome these shortcomings through the strength of his personality and brutal stroke-play.

When the powerful right- hander withdraws and attempts to bat like a front-line batsman, he is half the player he could be. Flintoff is at his best when he is looking to deposit the bowling in the 10th row of the stand. Today's contest offers him the chance to do this and it could transform his approach in the second Test.

Lancashire Lightning start the day as favourites. The Red Rose county have won more Twenty20 games than any other side this summer and they have the strongest squad. Surrey, who won the tournament in 2003 and finished runners-up in 2004, will provide stern opposition but Lancashire should be too good.

In Brad Hodge and Muttiah Muralitharan the Lightning have lost two of their most influential players. Hodge is a member of the touring Australian side and Muralitharan is currently playing for Sri Lanka, but the presence of Flintoff and Andrew Symonds should more than compensate. Hodge is one of three Lancashire players in the top six run scorers in this year's competition. Malachy Loye, with 336, is number two and Stuart Law is sixth. Middlesex's Owais Shah, with 410, is top.

This year's competition has been a huge success. Attendances in the group matches exceeded 500,000, which is a 65 per cent rise on the total number at all games in 2004. The average crowd for each group game was just under 7,000, a rise of 850 on 2004.

Surrey Lions, who attracted over 35,000 spectators to the Oval in their four group matches, will be hoping to make their home advantage count. In Alistair Brown, the Lions have one of county cricket's most destructive batsmen but it has been the bowling of Murtagh and Doshi, who share 28 wickets, that has been pivotal.

Doshi's left-arm spin has claimed 15 victims and he is the top wicket taker in the competition. Slow bowling is proving to be the most successful way of restricting scoring rates and 13 slow or medium pace bowlers occupy the top 20 places on economy rate.

The final will be the third match played on the pitch used today and this should further increase the use of these bowlers.

The second semi-final pits Leicestershire, the reigning champions, against Somerset, who were third in their group. Marcus Trescothick, the Somerset and England opener, will be hoping to get as much out of the day as Flintoff.

Andrew Caddick, Richard Johnson and Ian Blackwell, along with Graeme Smith and Charl Langeveldt from South Africa, give the West Country side plenty of players with international experience, and they must be favourites to join Lancashire in the final.

The Foxes will be without the injured John Sadler but welcome back India's Dinesh Mongia.

Twenty20 Cup finals day

The Oval today


Lancashire v Surrey (11.30)

Leicestershire v Somerset (15.00)

Final (19.15)