Cricket: England need Fraser for their four-pointer

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THE WORLD CUP, like the weather, is warming up nicely. For an England supporter, there are only two clouds in the sky: how do you make head or tail of this thing called the Super Six, and how on earth can England beat South Africa tomorrow?

First, the Super Six. Unlike the Duckworth-Lewis system, it is worth trying to get your head round. When the group stage of the World Cup is complete, at the end of the month, the top three teams from each group will go into the Super Six, taking with them any points gained against their two fellow qualifiers.

When they get there, they will each face all three qualifiers from the other group. So, unlike in football, there is no advantage in coming top of your group - it doesn't mean you get Croatia rather than Argentina.

The only thing that matters is doing well against your fellow qualifiers. It's far better to come second in your group with two wins against fellow qualifiers than it is to come top with only one such win. And losing to a minnow, as Pakistan threatened to do yesterday, is unlikely to be a mortal blow.

In effect, every team that qualifies will find that two of its group matches count twice. Football people talk about six-pointers, but these games are going to be four-pointers in a much more real sense.

Of course, the first thing is to qualify. It is being widely assumed that three wins out of five will be enough. But as Clarice Starling was solemnly informed by her boss, Jack Crawford, in The Silence of the Lambs, when you assume things, you make an ass out of `u' and `me'. In the Wisden Cricket Monthly staff canteen the other day, we all sat round and agreed on a prediction for every World Cup match, for a feature in the magazine. We took each game as it came, just as Alec Stewart would have wished, and the upshot was that in both groups, we had one team winning three matches and going out. This is not to say we'll turn out to be right - though we did have New Zealand down to beat Australia - but it does show that six points are no guarantee of anything.

Back in the real world, as things stand at the moment, no team has played three matches, let alone won them. So there is still everything to play for: not even Sri Lanka are out of it yet.

One team, however, are in a slightly better position than all the rest. South Africa are the only side to have beaten two Test-playing opponents. Tomorrow they face a third, and if they win that one, then they will have to lose to Kenya in the Netherlands on Wednesday to be in the slightest danger of not making the Super Six.

So tomorrow, for England, is very likely to be a four-pointer. They have seen a lot of South Africa recently and the one-day formbook is not encouraging. This time last year, in the Texaco Trophy, it was South Africa 2, England 1, and the one came after the two. Three months later, in the Emirates triangular tournament, England reached the final, while South Africa, in an attempt to appear human, finished third - but the one game between the sides, a muted affair at Edgbaston, was actually won by South Africa.

They met again in October, in the mini World Cup in Bangladesh, where England made 281 for 7 and still managed to lose, by six wickets, with 20 balls to spare. To be fair, England were without Stewart and their other Test players. To be even fairer, South Africa were missing Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener, and they still went on to win the whole competition. They are, unquestionably, a great one-day team.

So what can England do? First, pick all their matchwinners. The enduring memory of that Emirates tournament is of half of Lord's rising to applaud England's 12th man as he plodded round the boundary to deliver a drink. It was Angus Fraser, who had just taken 18 wickets in two matches to steal the Test series from under Hansie Cronje's nose.

Fraser just has to play tomorrow. He has far more international experience than Ian Austin, and more skill. Austin has taken only six wickets in his nine one-day internationals, whereas Fraser has 46 in 39 - and the small matter of 177 in Test matches. Austin can be relied upon to take 1 for 40; Fraser is much more likely to take 2 for 20. It's true that Fraser's somewhat elderly fielding will be more exposed than usual in the wide open spaces of The Oval, but then Austin is no Ricky Ponting himself.

Austin has many qualities - phlegm, accuracy, ability to hit the seam, and the knack of making the most of his ability. Fraser has all that too, in larger helpings. The only thing he hasn't got that Austin has is a place in the Lancashire team. But he was born there. So not even David Lloyd need feel bad about asking Austin to make way for him.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly