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Oliver ready to face childhood hero

For Worcestershire Rapids opener Richard Oliver tomorrow’s top-of-the-table NatWest T20 Blast clash with Lancashire Lightning could offer the chance to go head-to-head with a childhood hero.

Andrew Flintoff is widely-tipped to make his competitive return at New Road, five years after retiring following the 2009 Ashes success.

It is a thought that enthuses the 24-year-old Oliver, who grew up idolising Flintoff.

"Freddie was one of my heroes and it would be a privilege to play against him - like it is a lot of these guys,” Oliver told the club’s official website.

After five years away from competitive cricket the time might be right for Andrew Flintoff's much-publicised comeback at New Road

"As professionals, we don't tend to get overawed by whoever we play, we just enjoy the privilege, and it's nice to be part of an occasion like that.

"He'll bring the crowds in weather permitting and it's a dream for everyone to see him playing still.

"I think it's fantastic that he has made a comeback and he must be in pretty good shape and hitting the ball well and bowling well in the nets.”

Flintoff, who has played two second XI games, was named in the squad to play Birmingham Bears on Friday night only for the weather to put his comeback on hold for at least another couple of days.

Afterwards Lancashire skipper Glen Chapple revealed Flintoff had been a “strong chance” to take his place and heighten expectations ahead of the Lightning’s visit to New Road.

"It can only be a good thing for cricket and only a good thing for Worcestershire if we can sell more tickets and get more people in,” Oliver said.

"I'd be happy to see him - providing we win.”

Flintoff aside, Sunday’s match looms as a belter between two sides that are separated at the top of the North Group by net run-rate alone.

The Rapids have not lost since a 12-run defeat to Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford on the second day of the competition back in May

Six wins on the spin followed before their past two games, including Friday night’s clash against Yorkshire Vikings, were rained out without a ball being bowled.

Director of cricket Steve Rhodes has kept faith with the 13-man squad that was due to meet the Vikings, with spinner Brett D'Oliveira named after his father, and academy coach, Damian D'Oliveira passed away last Sunday.

"He recognises that his dad would have wanted him to carry on playing cricket. When you are concentrating on the match, it takes your mind off other things,” Rhodes said.

"Damian wouldn't have liked any sorrow from anyone and he would have wanted his son to carry on as normal and try and win games of cricket and do well himself.”

All-rounder Ross Whiteley is included after an injection to ease a shoulder problem while Moeen Ali is out as he prepares for the first Investec Test against India.

Hampshire can take over at the top of the South Group when they host Somerset at the Ageas Bowl.

Hampshire are on course to reach the knockout stage for a sixth successive season, however, Somerset’s hopes of progressing were all but ended with Friday’s rain-off at Glamorgan.

Chris Wood claimed career-best figures of 4-24 as Hampshire claimed a seventh win in nine games by 47 runs over Kent Spitfires last night.

Hampshire have named an unchanged squad for a match designated as a ‘Family Festival’ day at the Ageas Bowl.

The only other Blast match on Sunday will see the North Group’s bottom two, Derbyshire Falcons and Leicestershire Foxes, meet at the picturesque Queen's Park in Chesterfield.

Marcus North cracked a quickfire 90 when Derbyshire Falcons opened their Blast campaign with a 27-run defeat to Leicestershire Foxes

Leicestershire will head north feeling aggrieved after they skittled champions Northamptonshire Steelbacks for 82 on Friday only for the rain to sweep in and force a draw that virtually ended the Foxes’ quarter-finals hopes.

Derbyshire, who have just one Blast win this term, are the only county below them in the table.

The Foxes opened the season with a high-scoring 27-run win over Derbyshire at Grace Road, when Marcus North hit 90 off 42 balls in a losing cause.

North is included in the Falcons’ 13-man squad with fellow overseas signing Shivnarine Chanderpaul not included.

Tom Knight has been drafted in after a career-best 125 against Yorkshire in a second XI game on Thursday.

“It’s good to be back at Chesterfield and the guys can’t wait,” Wayne Madsen told Derbyshire’s website.

“Leicestershire have some real power hitters at the top of the order and they also do a tidy job with the ball. They are a team who, on their day, can be very dangerous.

“We probably gave them too many runs at their place in the first game of the season, but we will be looking to improve ourselves and perform better on Sunday.”

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