Shahid stands in the way of Somerset success

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The Independent Online

Lord's was awash with the country's finest one-day cricketing talent yesterday, but that had more to do with the presence of England's one-day squad, undergoing fitness tests and medicals ahead of Zimbabwe, than it had with today's C&G trophy finalists, Leicestershire and Somerset.

If that sounds sombre, blame Australia. Whenever the national side gets a stuffing from them, the domestic game undergoes a renewed burst of soul searching. Even England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, has weighed in with the perennial complaint that there is too much cricket played, believing that the game's structure needs a complete overhaul.

It rarely does much good, not in the long term, and the only thing anyone watching the last significant cricket showpiece of the summer needs to know, before football myopia sets in, is that these sides are extremely well matched.

Indeed Leicestershire, now that Gloucestershire have relinquished their monopoly on Lord's finals, may be about to prove they are the best limited-over side in the land. In all one-day cricket since 5 May, they have lost only twice, though on both occasions, and this is what makes today's match intriguing, the team to beat them has been Somerset.

Losing finalists here in 1999, when their captain Jamie Cox admitted they took too long to settle into the match, a third win, in front of a packed house at Lord's (24,000 are expected), would bring great satisfaction. To achieve that they will have to neuter the destructive hitting of Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan player, who, arriving as a later replacement for their injured overseas player, Daniel Marsh, has terrorised bowlers and spectators with mighty striking.

Although Cox denied his team had a special plan for Afridi, rumours circulating at the Nursery End yesterday suggested that Somerset would resort to laughter should the excitable Pathan start causing mayhem. If it sounds unlikely, the basis of the tactic is that Afridi has already blitzed them twice this season, scoring 68 off 30 balls and 58 off 25 balls, but always been on the losing side.

"He's dangerous," admitted Cox yesterday. "You obviously have to get him out or the game can get away from you. But he hasn't yet faced Andy Caddick or Richard Johnson this season, two international bowlers with pace and bounce."

With its sloping pitch allowing occasional movement, Lord's is, in any case, a difficult place to take liberties against good bowlers. Both Caddick and Johnson like bowling here, while off-spinner Keith Dutch used to bowl for Middlesex.

In the opposition camp, England's latest recruit, James Ormond, will be searching for his out-swinger to trouble Somerset's top-order of Marcus Trescothick, Peter Bowler and Cox, who could also face Devon Malcolm if the veteran fast bowler makes the final eleven. Backing them up will be the medium-pace of Vince Wells and Phil DeFreitas, with Scott Boswell a third supplier, if Malcolm is deemed too risky.

Trescothick is no slouch with the bat either, especially when it comes to taking on the field restrictions in place for the first 15 overs. Now a fixture in the England side (he is even talked of as Nasser Hussain's successor as captain), people tend to forget that it was one-day cricket that gave him his break when he was picked for the triangular series last year. The left-hander gave a virtuoso performance with the bat here against Pakistan in June when he scored a century.

His opening partner, the 38-year old Bowler, was not at yesterday's net sessions. A former Somerset captain, whose first-class career began in 1986, Bowler was taking a law exam. He is clearly planning for a future outside cricket and a last hurrah at Lord's would be a gratifying way to move on.

Both sides have "finishers", the latest one-day buzz word being banded around by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney. These are batsmen who score quick twenties and thirties to see their side though late stages of run chases without falling victim to the mounting run-rate and pressure it brings. Leicestershire have Aftab Habib, while Somerset have both wicketkeeper Rob Turner and Keith Parsons. It is this aspect of the one-day game that England have been weakest. With only Graham Thorpe an accomplished practitioner in the current set-up, there is a chance, especially if Nasser Hussain is still about, for someone to catch the eye.

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