Flintoff finds form with fifty for Lancashire
Andrew Flintoff began his season in style with a fluent 66, supporting Brad Hodge's magnificent 130, as Lancashire beat Northamptonshire by 20 runs on a gloomy, interrupted day at Old Trafford. Hodge, playing in his first match since he hit a hundred in the World Cup against the Netherlands, was always in control - bar one half-chance to Niall O'Brien - while Flintoff opened his shoulders, clubbing a muscular six over midwicket. And then the rain fell. Sajid Mahmood was predictably wayward - going for 17 from his first five deliveries - before restoring pride with a fast yorker to clean up Stephen Peters. But, with Northants' target reduced to 121 from 21 overs, David Sales (14*) couldn't quite edge them over the line.
Fifties from David Hussey and Mark Wagh led Nottinghamshire to a comfortable seven-wicket win over Worcestershire at New Road, in spite of an excellent hundred from Phil Jaques. Worcestershire's 234 for 8 was a stuttering affair, only Jacques and Hick (41) showing any signs of fluency - though that was due in part to an exceptional spell from Mark Ealham who picked up three wickets in five balls. Nottinghamshire set off in a hurry with Jason Gallian cracking 36, but it was Wagh (67) and Hussey, named Man-of-the-Match for his slick 88, who shone to take Notts home with nine balls to spare.
Leicestershire fell into the trap of underestimating a so-called minnow, scraping past Scotland by four wickets off the final ball at Grace Road. George Bailey led Scotland's impressive show with the bat, launching 76 at No.5 from just 42 balls to set Leicestershire a challenging 256. Tom New got their chase off to a solid start, and HD Ackerman struck a quick-fire fifty, but wickets continued to fall and Scotland kept a lid on the run-rate to such an extent that the home side needed 25 from 14 with six wickets in hand. Paul Nixon cracked a succession of fours to take them close, but fell to Dewald Nel in the last over, leaving Daniel Rowe and Jeremy Snape to edge them over the line.
Middlesex edged past Gloucestershire in a nail-biter at Lord's by just one wicket, successfully chasing down 222 with Tim Murtagh and Chris Wright holding their nerve in spite of a superb spell from Steve Kirby. Middlesex's chase began poorly, losing the two Eds, Smith and Joyce, and Owais Shah. Andrew Strauss, returning to Middlesex colours, was industrial in his 70 and received good support from David Nash and Jamie Dalrymple before the latter became Kirby's fifth victim of the innings. And then they collapsed: from 207 for 5 Middlesex slipped to 209 for 9 but Wright held his nerve, crashing a four to seal a tense win.
Ireland were blown away for 213 by Somerset at Taunton with Charl Willoughby picking up 5 for 33. Many of the Ireland batsmen got starts but, in the face of such a daunting total, couldn't capitalise. Only Gary Wilson, the 21-year-old wicketkeeper, reached fifty as Ireland were dismissed in the 41st over. Somerset's imposing 341 was led, perhaps inevitably, by Justin Langer (132) and Cameron White who struck 65 at a run-a-ball. Somerset won by 128 runs.
Kent squeezed past Essex by three wickets, with two balls to spare, in a tight encounter at Chelmsford in which four of the visitor's batsmen were run-out. Robert Key appeared to be taking Kent to their target of 235 with ease before he was run out for 45, shortly followed by Matthew Walker (58). Then, two balls later, Joe Denly was also caught short but Yasir Arafat and Ryan McLaren edged the required runs off Ryan ten Doeschate with two balls remaining.