CRICKET : Pears' Flimsy Foundation

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Byline: By George Dobell

A 12-over run-chase may not be the firmest of foundations from which to build a revival but Worcestershire are hardly in a position to quibble.

Their rain-affected victory over Gloucestershire on Sunday has renewed hopes that the team might yet fulfil the dream of achieving top division status in the two league competitions. On form they may well find themselves in the same division in both. But it will not be the top one.

Sunday's victory did, at least, stop the rot. They had not won since May 15 in the totesport League, June 11 in the Championship and were it not for two narrow victories against Warwickshire and one against Glamorgan (which hardly counts; they lose to everybody) in the Twenty20 Cup, they would have lost 13 matches in a row. Confidence cannot be high.

The flood-lit totesport League match against Hampshire this evening is another important contest. Hampshire are relegation rivals; equal on points with Worcestershire but with a superior run-rate.

Craig McMillan will be making his last appearance for Hampshire before departing on New Zealand duty. His replacement, former Worcestershire all-rounder Andy Bichel, will be at the Rose Bowl today but will not play until next week.

The hosts will be immeasurably strengthened by the availability of Kevin Pietersen and Chris Tremlett. The danger of Pietersen's batting is obvious but Tremlett, on the suspect pitches of the Rose Bowl and under lights, may well prove to be even more important.

Worcestershire have match-winners of their own, of course. Kabir Ali's extra experience of playing under lights could be useful, particularly in overcast conditions where he should find some swing, while the ageless David Leatherdale is averaging more than 50 in the competition and is sixth in the league's averages. Vikram Solanki and Zander de Bruyn are also riding high. The match will be televised live on Sky Sports.

Shoaib Akhtar has also travelled with the team and will play in place of either Ray Price or Nadeem Malik if deemed fit.

Shoaib has also been pencilled in - you can never confirm much with such a mercurial character - for the weekend's match against the Australians. Worcestershire have confirmed their laudable intention to field a full-strength side for the three-day match and a large crowd is expected.

Shoaib is already felt by some members to be a 'high maintenance' overseas signing but perhaps that is harsh. His extreme pace takes a heavy toll on him physically and he should be viewed as very much a luxury item. …