Flintoff wary of Worcestershire threat

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The Independent Online

They may have been the kings of one-day cricket in the 20th century, but Lancashire have been nowhere near the throne room in the 21st.

Four times since 2000, they have reached the semi-final stage of knock-out competitions, and four times they have been beaten.

Today they make a fifth assault on a place in the final when they tackle Worcestershire at New Road in the last four of the C&G Trophy on the back of more consistent form as National League Second Division leaders.

But Worcestershire, sixth in the first division of the same competition are no slouches in the one day game and Andrew Flintoff, Lancashire's England all-rounder is well aware of this.

"It's a massive game for Lancashire. We haven't done well in semi-finals in recent years. We are a very strong side on paper, but this season we have also put the work in, and deserve something back for it. But you can't be over confident." Indeed not. Worcestershire have a full-strength squad to choose from and the major selection dilemma for director of cricket Tom Moody is whether to play Stephen Peters or Anurag Singh as Solanki's opening partner. They have also been spoilt for choice by South Africa's decision to release the all-rounder Andrew Hall for this tie.

"It will be a tough game," added Flintoff. "Andrew Hall is a threat because he is quicker than people think and he can move the ball both ways, and Kabir Ali will also be looking forward to bowling on his home pitch."

The respect is mutual. This match represents possibly Steven Rhodes' last chance to get to a Lord's final, and the Worcestershire wicketkeeper said: "They've got some great players, and two good overseas batsmen in Stuart Law and Carl Hooper, while Andrew Flintoff is the best all-rounder that England have. And he has been for a long time.

"But while we might be thinking 'what a strong side' they are, they, for their part are going to sit down at Old Trafford and be thinking similar things about us.

"We have not played them recently in one-day cricket but over the years when we did play them we managed to win quite a lot of the games." In fact in their most recent semi-final, in 1995, again at New Road, the tie went to the wire with Lancashire sneaking home in the last over after a memorable innings by Wasim Akram and solid support from Gary Yates and Warren Hegg.

Worcestershire all-rounder David Leatherdale recalled that tie ruefully saying: "Meetings between the two sides have always had a bit of zest about them going back to the 1980s and early 1990s. We had the last semi-final won before Akram, Hegg and Yates took it away from us.

"We will have to perform to the best of our game. We've proved, with the wins over Yorkshire and Leicestershire earlier in the competition, what we are capable of.

"But it is nice to be the underdogs, and people will look at us and say, 'They beat Yorkshire who are a good side'. We have quality players in our team, Vikram Solanki, Graeme Hick and Ben Smith among the batsmen, and a bowling line-up of good quality seamers - and a spinner in Gareth Batty who is on the fringe of the England squad."

Rhodes, meanwhile, believes having a fit-again Hick after nearly two months out with a broken bone in his hand, is critical to Worcestershire.

"When opponents see a side without Graeme Hick they are bloody grateful, so to have him back with us for the semi-final is tremendous."

Lancashire are not going to find it easy to regain their crown, not with pretenders of this calibre lying in wait.