The FP Trophy is back on Sunday and Ian Ward expects sparks to fly as Dominic Cork returns to Old Trafford.
Last Updated: 03/07/09 6:36pm
The FP Trophy is back on Sunday with a couple of belting semi-finals.
Two superb games lie in store and I expect Lancashire's home clash against Hampshire and Gloucestershire's trip to Sussex to be very tight contests.
All four sides have been on a diet of Twenty20 cricket since the last-eight stage of the FP Trophy, with a sprinkling of Championship matches thrown in, and it will be interesting to see how each goes about their business in the 50-over format.
We've seen how the likes of India's Yuvraj Singh and West Indian Chris Gayle have carried the Twenty20 theme into the 50-over game on the international stage, blasting the ball around, and I think we'll see sides being positive with the bat and more adventurous with the ball on the domestic front too.
Unfortunately, the schedule hasn't done the FP Trophy any favours. Twenty20 cricket has become the premier limited-overs format around the world and it's taken over the fixture list as a result.
I've had people asking me saying 'where's the Friends Provident Trophy gone?' and they are right - it has disappeared off the radar to some extent.
Fifty-over cricket can still be entertaining and people do still want to watch it. Yet, as the Schofield report highlighted all of those years ago, if you are going to have a competition, supporters must be able to track its progress.
As we've had such a long break between the quarter and the semi-finals, I think any of the form the teams have previously shown in the competition is now irrelevant.
Instead, we should look to the domestic Twenty20 for clues to each of the semi-finalists form which is good news for Lancashire because they've only lost once and they've played some outstanding stuff in four-day cricket as well.
As they are at home I'd probably make them favourites to beat Hampshire even without Andrew Flintoff who will be unavailable if, as expected, he's named in England's Test squad.
They'll have to rely on the squad that has got them this far but in many ways that is quite a nice position for Glen Chapple and Peter Moores to be in because they know they can perform without their biggest names.
Mal Loye could return to the one-day stage which will be a huge boost because he is a massively dynamic player.
He batted at three in the first innings of the County Championship game against Nottinghamshire but I fancy he might open in the 50-over game.
I love watching him bat in one-day cricket because he bats almost without fear and if he and VVS Laxman can put a big score on the board, Lancashire have the bowling unit to take advantage.
But I'm sure that's not how Dominic Cork sees it! He will love being the centre of attention on his return to Old Trafford and he will have a point to prove.
He is enjoying his cricket at Hampshire and can't speak highly enough of the structure they have in place there. He is very impressed with Giles White, the Hampshire coach, and Dimitri Mascarenhas the captain - they are very professional but go about their business in a very relaxed way.
For years the county have been known as 'Happy Hampshire', the good old boys down on the south coast, but watching them during the Twenty20 clash against Essex at Chelmsford I couldn't help but notice these guys are proper athletes.
Take Michael Lumb for instance - he is a ferocious competitor who like Michael Carberry, looks really, really strong.
Lumb's is the wicket Lancashire will covet most because he can be such a dominating batsman - his stature at the crease is quite imposing.
Don't overlook the Duncan Fletcher factor either. The former England coach has just started a month-long stint at the county and I'm sure he'll have some new ideas to offer the side before the game.
In contrast to Hampshire and Lancashire - both Twenty20 quarter-finalists - Gloucestershire have had a bad Twenty20 competition and will not have great momentum going into Sunday's match.
On a positive note, they side does seem more aware of what they need to do in the 50-over form of the game and it is John Bracewell's forte.
It's generally been the case that Gloucestershire are as good as the sum of their parts in one-day cricket and once again it is that team ethic that will stand them in good stead if they are going to get through.
Under Bracewell, Gloucestershire are a very competitive, well-drilled and tactically astute side and I expect them to give Sussex a run for their money at Hove.
The hosts, though, are likely to include Dwayne Smith in their ranks and he is one hugely talented cricketer in all facets of the game. In fact, he is one of the best fielders you are ever likely to see.
Like Cork, Smith is another one who likes the limelight and he is an experienced international cricketer as well which will stand Sussex in good stead.
I'll be keen to see how leg-spinner Piyush Chawla gets on too; he should be an interesting proposition down at Sussex and although he's got a long way to go before he reaches the giddy heights of what Mushtaq Ahmed achieved, he'll be trying to follow in Mushy's footsteps.
Sussex have got a nice balance to their one-day side and they always play well at home so this game is a very tough one to call. However, I get the feeling we might just see a Lancashire v Sussex final at Lord's later this month. Let me know if you agree...