Carl Hooper's value to Lancashire is growing all the time, but the club face the prospect of having to let him go later this month.
Harbhajan Singh is due to arrive at Old Trafford on Friday as their second overseas player and, although Lancashire believe he will still need time to regain full fitness after his finger injury, the days of his temporary replacement are numbered.
Yet Hooper continues to impress. The 36-year-old West Indian figured prominently in the two Championship wins that has put Lancashire on the shoulders of the First Division leaders, Surrey, and yesterday he helped them to beat Nottinghamshire by seven wickets, their third National League success of the season.
Hooper came into his own in a game reduced to 17 overs after rain stopped play when Nottinghamshire had faced three overs. Economical with the ball, he helped to restrict Nottinghamshire to 100 for 6 and then shared in the match-winning stand of 84 with Andrew Flintoff.
Jason Gallian, determined to enjoy himself on his old ground, hammered 36 off 38 balls, but he had little support, with Glen Chapple claiming two for 14 off four overs and Hooper bowling intelligently for one for 20 from four overs.
Lancashire lost Mal Loye, Iain Sutcliffe and Stuart Law cheaply, but the result rarely looked in doubt from the moment Flintoff joined Hooper with the score at 26 for 3.
Paul Franks lost his rhythm, sending down a string of wides, including three on the trot, and he suffered the final indignity when Flintoff hoisted him for a six over midwicket to clinch the victory in the 16th over, leaving him on 43 and Hooper on 40.
Mike Cawdron returned to the West country to inflict more woe on Somerset as the Second Division leaders, Northamptonshire, cruised to a seven-wicket win at Bath. The former Gloucestershire seamer claimed 4 for 31, helping to reduce the Sabres to 35 for 5 before rain reduced the match to 35 overs per side.
A half-century from Keith Dutch helped the home team struggle to 143 all out, but the Northamptonshire target was reduced to 131 under the Duckworth-Lewis system and the captain Mike Hussey led them to victory with 7.3 overs to spare.
The Somerset skipper Mike Burns surprisingly elected to bat after winning the toss with some threatening clouds gathering. It was a decision he was soon to regret as Cawdron got to work. In only the second over Jamie Cox loosely followed a leg-side delivery and lifted a simple catch straight into the hands of Andre Nel at fine leg. It was a casual stroke that set the tone for Somerset's batsmen. Three run-outs contributed to their troubles, while Cawdron went on to dismiss Carl Gazzard, James Bryant and Ian Blackwell in his seven overs, which included a maiden.
There was no pressure on the Northamptonshire openers to score quickly. Hussey and Rob White were able to build the innings and put on 79 before White skied the England spinner Ian Blackwell to Simon Francis at mid-on. Blackwell bowled his seven overs for only 14 runs, also picking up the wicket of Phil Jaques, snapped up at short-leg by Cox.
Dutch also bowled well for his 1 for 33 from seven overs, but the fielding was shoddy and Hussey had few problems compiling his half-century off 57 balls with eight fours and a six. David Sales was unbeaten on 33 when the winning runs were hit, leaving Somerset with only one win from six National League games.
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