Andrew Flintoff made his long-awaited return to county cricket in front of a packed crowd at New Road but was hardly needed as Lancashire took charge of the NatWest T20 Blast North Division in a 50-run defeat of title rivals Worcestershire.
Half-centuries by Ashwell Prince and Jos Buttler swept them to their highest score in the competition, beating the 220 for five which was set on Flintoff’s last first-team appearance when he made 93 from 41 balls at Derby in 2009.
On his comeback, after a break of five years and 11 days, he was not required at all as a batsman, doing no more than putting his pads on in the 19th over and taking them off with a ball to go as Worcestershire’s bowlers took their biggest-ever mauling in the competition.
He was finally in the action, conceding 15 runs in the sixth over, but came back with a wicket in each of two later spells for an overall return of 4-0-36-2, almost mirroring his figures of two for 32 against Derbyshire before retirement.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, his pace was down on his glory years and it would have been a jolt to be cut for four and pulled for six from his first two balls by former Shropshire captain Richard Oliver.
The Rapids were putting up a fight at that stage with Oliver (44) and skipper Daryl Mitchell (46) smashing 90 in the first nine overs, but they were gone, both falling to Steven Croft’s off-spin, before Flintoff was called on again for the 13th over.
Again he was given a rough reception, with Tom Kohler-Cadmore pulling his first ball for six, but the former Malvern College batsman was bowled attempting to drive the fourth.
When Flintoff came back for the 17th over, he had Alexei Kervezee comfortably caught at long-on and the Rapids were ultimately pegged back to 179 for seven.
Lancashire are now close to guaranteeing a place in the quarter-finals and Worcestershire are still strong contenders to reach the knockout stage despite their first defeat in any competition since they were beaten at Old Trafford in May.
The Rapids rebounded from that setback in a run of six consecutive wins but momentum may have been lost when their last two games were washed out.
Prince picked up the pace in a stand of 60 in six overs before his new partner, Karl Brown (29), looped a catch to short third man, but this only brought in Buttler to take the bowling apart in a 26-ball half-century, before he was caught at mid-wicket by Brett D’Oliveira.
D’Oliveira also ran out Prince but Croft, in his 96th consecutive game in the competition, got the record total with 29 not out.