First day: Worcestershire trail Lancashire by 137 runs with nine first-innings wickets intact

They all came to acclaim the saviour of English cricket, but this was Worcestershire's day at New Road before, during and after the fall of Andrew Flintoff.

Chaminda Vaas, Kabir Ali and Matt Mason all weighed in with three wickets apiece as Lancashire were shot out four runs short of a batting point. Had it not been for an impressively lusty 69 not out from former skipper Warren Hegg, their total would hhave been much worse.

Playing purely as a batsman while he attempts to recover from winter surgery on his ankle, 'Freddie' Flintoff had attracted quite an audience.

A crowd that was larger than average for a Worcestershire Championship home match at this time of year included not only England coach Duncan Fletcher and chairman of selectors David Graveney, but also the full might of the national press to monitor his every move.

After a rain-affected late start and an idle morning spent laying waste to the press-box biscuit tin (which, quite clearly, was not up to the task), the hungry hack pack had just eight minutes of action on which to feed.

At 3.03 pm, Flintoff entered the arena with commendable keenness. The outgoing Stuart Law, who had just been caught behind off Kabir, had barely left the square before Flintoff was through the pavilion gate and marching, with massive Botham-like tread, towards the middle.

Not even Graeme Hick in his pomp on this ground could have effected such a speedy entrance, but all too sadly, it was to be a short sojourn at the crease.

It ended at 3.11 pm in Kabir's next over. Facing only his fifth ball, having pushed a couple in to the covers and left alone another two, Flintoff steered a rising delivery to Hick at second slip.

And, although they will be 39 years old in less than a month's time, Hick's safe hands (responsible now for over 600 catches in first-class cricket) weren't going to spill that one.

It set the standard of a poor batting performance, enlivened only by Hegg's 66-run ninth-wicket stand with Jimmy Anderson.

Theings were always a struggle for Lancashire after a start delayed for an houranda-quarter by a morning deluge.

Having crawled to 27 for no wicket from 16 overs by lunch, they then lost Iain Sutcliffe to the first ball after the restart, as Vaas sneaked one through his defences.

After 24 hours of confusion and uncertainty as to whether he would even play, Mason then struck with his first ball of the day, getting Mark Chilton caught behind.

The same fate awaited Law and then, having been dismissed for a duck in his previous Championship innings, for Lancashire at Aigburth in June 2003, Flintoff bagged another.

Kabir, the less celebrated England international on view, completed a midafternoon spell of three for 14 when he also found the edge of Mal Loye's bat.

In his first game of the season following a calf strain, his three-wicket burst would have impressed the selectors had they stopped around long enough to see it, but Kabir had to share top billing with Vaas and Mason.

The visitors slumped to 130 for eight when Kyle Hogg edged David Wigley to slip and Vaas struck twice in quick succession, trapping Dominic Cork lbw and yorking Sajid Mahmood.

Hegg lessened Lancashire's embarrassment by hitting eight fours in a 39-ball half-century, aided by Anderson's Championship-best 18, but Mason ended the innings with impressive swiftness. No sooner had he earned an lbw decision against Anderson than Muttiah Muralitharan came in to hit the next ball to Vaas at short extra cover and leave Mason on a hat-trick.

In reply, Stephen Moore went in Cork's first over but Hick, dropped at third slip by Chilton on 15, helped Stephen Peters to see things safely through to the close.