Worcestershire know they are entering the lion's den when they play Gloucestershire under the Bristol floodlights on Thursday night seeking a first trophy since 1994.

Given Worcestershire's season, it would probably be most fitting if it rained all night at Nevil Road and they obtained the one point needed to stop Hampshire pinching the NatWest Pro40 title under the umbrellas.

But, if the weather stays fair, of all the away grounds they could have chosen to try to claim a first 'Sunday League' crown in 19 years, their undoubted bogey ground would not be one of them.

Ever since Gloucestershire were allowed to replay a NatWest Trophy tie and beat Worcestershire in controversial circumstances at New Road in 2000 - a registration mix-up became known as the Kabir Ali affair - the West Country men have had the Indian sign over their great rivals.

In 21 meetings, in various forms of one-day cricket, the two sides have met 21 times since that ill-graced ECB ruling. Worcestershire have won only five. But, with Kabir's cousins, brothers Kadeer and Moeen, pitched against each other for the first real time, there is a chink of light for Worcestershire.

Despite having twice lost this season in floodlit matches at Bristol in the Twenty20, Worcestershire have been helped by Duckworth/Lewis to take home the points from their last two appearances at Nevil Road for 'one-day league' matches (in 2003 and 2005).

But Gareth Batty, stand-in captain for World Twenty20 player Vikram Solanki, says past scores don't count a jot. He is more concerned that Worcestershire are unbeaten in nine 'List A' matches (seven wins, two rain-offs) since a heavy defeat to eventual winners Durham in the Friends Provident Trophy at the Riverside on June 1.

"We know they've had a bit of a hex on us before,"Batty said. "But it won't even be spoken about on Thursday night. We've had a very special Pro40 so far and the main focus is keeping up our 100 per cent record in the competition which, if we did, would be phenomenal."

The off-field problems that have afflicted Worcestershire have contributed to their County Championship relegation. But in the Pro40 they are fizzing nicely.

"It was a magnificent performance on Sunday," Batty said of the 151-run win over Northamptonshire. "For the two young lads Moeen Ali and Steven Davies to come in and step into the shoes of Vikram and Phil Jaques the way they did was fantastic. We had a definite feeling we'd do all right in this, having gone quite well in the Friends Provident. We're only a small squad but we're a tight unit. And our winning ratio in one-day cricket over the last 18 months is as good as anybody's."

Meanwhile, Matt Mason is hoping to end his injury-ravaged year by playing before the end of 2007.

Worcestershire's Australian-born, English-qualified fast bowler has defied reports that his career could be cut short by a shoulder injury that has troubled him all season by taking up a winter contract as captain/coach for Perth first grade team Claremont Nedlands CC this winter.

Mason, who underwent surgery last Monday, is still in a sling and feeling sore following the operation. He is not allowed to drive for a month. But he has been told by the surgeon that he will make a full recovery and will be back in action inside three months.

"The op has gone well," a cheery Mason said, "as you'd expect. It was an Aussie that did it, a bloke called Andrew Wallace. I'll be in a sling for a month but he's told me that, if everything goes well, I'll be fit to play by December and it'll just be nice to get playing again.

"I never felt comfortable with it. I could still feel it that game when they persuaded me to come in and play at The Rose Bowl and it finally 'went' properly when I was batting. But now they've finally got to the problem.

"I knew what was being said in certain parts of the media. But I certainly never felt that way. You've just got to try to stay positive and it means that I can come back next season properly match-fit and hopefully hit the ground running. And that's important as I'm in the last year of my contract next summer and I'm keen to make up for lost time."

Solanki acknowledges that his absence, and the failure of Doug Bollinger, increased the workload for Kabir Ali, causing him to pull out of last week's Championship match against Hampshire at Kidderminster. He said: "Matt has been a stalwart for us in our attack. He's a guy that last year and previous years has been a linchpin, a chap that does the hard yards and gets us wickets and at a consistent rate and economically as well."