August 11, 2001

Leicestershire and Lancashire contest second C & G Semi


Leicestershire and Lancashire clash in the second semi-final of the C & G Trophy at Grace Road on Sunday.

With centuries for Aftab Habib and Ben Smith in the last round of CricInfo Championship games, Leicestershire have several batsmen playing well. They are the form side in one-day cricket and have yet to be beaten in the NUL where they top Division One.

They also boast one of the most outrageous talents in the world of limited overs cricket: Shahid Afridi.

"I know all about Afridi," Lancashire coach Bobby Simpson said. "I've seen a lot of him and we know he's a very dangerous player. If it is his day, anything can happen."

But Lancashire have potential match-winners of their own. Andrew Flintoff is just running into form, Warren Hegg is in the batting form of his life and the merits of Atherton, Fairbrother and Crawley are well documented.

"Flintoff can score heavily, we all know how Fairbrother can play and the same applies to people like Atherton, Chapple and Crawley," Leicestershire coach Jack Birkenshaw reasoned. "We've got to respect them and play like we can."

It has been the old guard of Fairbrother and Hegg that have been responsible for rescuing Lancashire on many occasions this season. Simpson admits that added to his disappointment on how the season - his final as coach - as a whole has gone, there is the added concern of a side that is ageing together, with many key players all approaching the end of their careers.

"It is inevitable that players grow old together," he said. "They all seem to bow out together and it is very difficult to replace them.

"But we have got a good side and a pretty good bowling attack. We also have enough 'name' batsmen to do well. It is up to the boys to show at Leicester how good they are."

But Simpson is a big fan of Neil Fairbrother, and believes that despite the age of the former England man, he is still a priceless performer.

"Neil might be 37 going on 38 but I think technically he is batting a lot better," Simpson said. "We have worked very hard over the past two seasons on sorting out a few technical problems and he is very happy with his batting at present.

"He is very sure on confidence and he perhaps wishes those things had been sorted out a few years ago. Neil is really enjoying new challenges and we work well together. He is doing well in both forms of the game and just controlled the quarter-final against Durham.

"He just keeps it going. He is a very good cricketer and his slip catching has been brilliant this year. You would have to think the laser treatment has been good for him."

"We appreciate they have the people who can win a game," Birkenshaw admitted. "I hope they play poorly and we play well - but on their day they are formidable opposition."

One player who has emerged as a key performer for Lancashire with bat as well as ball is Glenn Chapple.

Chapple was promoted to a pinch-hitting role early this season, and has revelled in the new opportunity.

"A couple of players mentioned that Mike Watkinson used to do the role and had some success with it," Chapple revealed. "Even if he only got a quick 20, it got us off to a start. It takes a bit of pressure off the batters who are trying to build a start and not get out whereas I can go in with a little less pressure on me.

"I still play properly. I am not going out to slog but if we are bogged down a bit I take a few chances. I'm enjoying the role and it has helped my championship batting as well. It gives me more confidence and I can stay in better form now.

"In the past if I just batted eight or nine I might not get a bat for two or three weeks and then you lose form but to be in the middle week in and week out makes you a much better player."

Chapple admitted that Lancashire were keen to make amends after losing in two semi-finals in the 2000 season. And with the team struggling in other competitions the C & G is their last hope to salvage something from the season.

"We have been struggling for a few weeks in the other competitions and have not been playing as well as we can. But in the C&G quarter-final against Durham we played some very good cricket.

"We bowled well early on, kept it tight, got a few wickets and our batters made it look quite easy. We were pleased with the all-round performance and we will go into the game with Leicestershire in a confident mood," Chapple said.

"We've been trying in every competition, but we've been playing some good cricket followed by some not so good cricket. We know we can play a lot better than we have done.

"The C&G becomes even more important this time. We lost two semi-finals last year, but were still in the hunt for the CricInfo Championship title.

"This time around we are not as close as we would like to be, so that makes the C&G even more crucial. Leicester are playing good cricket. They are a very attacking side with the bat and they have got some useful bowlers.

"But we feel we are equal to them and if we play to the best of our ability then we've got a good chance of winning it. We would like to think that when we play well we are as good as anyone in the country. Recent results don't show that, but we still feel when we play well we can beat anyone.

"There's disappointment there at the way we have performed in some of the recent games -but that will spur us on even more on Sunday.

"We weren't used to losing in semi-finals and to lose both at the same place (Bristol) last season made it even worse and we don't want to experience that feeling of disappointment again."