The forecast seems somewhat unpredictable for Worcestershire as the New Road regulars get a first chance this season to look at their team against Lancashire today.

Matt Mason's possible absence with a shin injury would take the gloss off Kabir Ali's return to action.

And it appears likely that Tom Moody's side will also have to contend with the talents of Lancashire's two star turns Andrew Flintoff and Muttiah Muralitharan, even if neither can be expected to be at their sharpest.

But it would be no surprise at all if rain wrecks Worcestershire's first home appearance of the summer.

At first glance, with the weather outlook for the next four days of County Championship cricket not looking too clever, the visit of one of the county's most attractivelooking teams might be considered ill-timed. From the point of view of putting a few bums on seats, that is.

Yet, had this game taken place later in the season when he will be expected to be otherwise engaged against the Australians, New Road would have been deprived of the chance to see England allrounder "Freddie" Flintoff in action.

Sri Lankan Test star Muralitharan and Flintoff continue their comebacks from injury after appearing in a National League game against Middlesex on Sunday. And only at the end of the next four days will director of cricket Moody decide whether his side would have fared better without having to face them.

On the plus side, Worcestershire welcome back an international player of their own, Kabir, who has recovered from the eveofseason calf strain that ruled him out of his side's first two Championship games. But there is a chance that they might yet lose their most consistent performer Mason with a shin problem.

"It's more than likely he'll play," said Moody. "But there's a chance also that we might take the more conservative route and we have Alamgir Sheriyar standing by."

Kabir missed the opening victory against Derbyshire and last week's two-day defeat to Durham and Moody prefers to emphasise the positives.

"It's a huge boost," said the director of cricket. "He's a genuine wicket-taker, plus he adds strength and depth to our batting. He wasn't quite ready for the Durham game last week but we're confident that he's fit."

Worcestershire need a better performance from a bowling attack who performed badly when it mattered most on the first afternoon at the Riverside. Flintoff, on his way back after his winter ankle operation and playing as a batsman only, will certainly test them to the full.

Muralitharan, who underwent shoulder surgery last August, is also likely to be a major thorn if he hits anything like the form that has helped him take more than 500 Test wickets. But, with a spy in the camp in the form of Murali's fellow Sri Lankan Test team-mate Chaminda Vaas, Worcestershire have ways to counter him.

"Obviously we'll be asking Chaminda what tricks Murali is likely to have up his sleeve," said Moody. "But we've also got players such as Graeme Hick, who have firsthand experience of him.

"And maybe it will be good for us that the pressure is on Flintoff. He's coming back and everyone will be watching to see how he does."

WORCESTERSHIRE (expected): V S Solanki (capt), S C Moore, S D Peters, G A Hick, B F Smith, G J Batty, D J Pipe, Kabir Ali, W P U J C Vaas, M S Mason, D H Wigley, A Sheriyar (12th man).