It has been a long haul back for Fraser since a hip injury sidelined him during the Australian tour of 1990-91. He has struggled to regain both his form and fitness and until yesterday he seemed to lack that extra zip so typical of his bowling four years ago.
With the pitch here in Bridgetown offering some steep bounce, Fraser was an awkward proposition from the start. However, it wasn't until after tea, when Michael Atherton bowled him from the livelier Southern end, that the Middlesex seamer wreaked his four- wicket havoc, and the England captain may yet regret he didn't make the switch sooner.
Chris Lewis also chipped in by claiming the prized wicket of Brian Lara, Nasser Hussain (the substitute fielder replacing Fraser) taking a brilliant catch at cover point. Controversy also marked the second day, with Atherton and umpire Lloyd Barker squaring up after a disputed decision.
The high drama came when the West Indian opener Desmond Haynes hit a spanking straight drive, and Phil Tufnell set off in hot pursuit. Presuming the ball had gone for four, Haynes ambled back to the striker's end, only to see Jack Russell whip off the bails.
Tufnell did not know whether the ball had gone to the wall that acts as a boundary, yet TV replays from two separate angles proved it had. But with Atherton convinced that Haynes should be given run out, Barker's decision that three runs and not four would stand seemed a little illogical.
Barker claims he called 'over' and that was why Haynes was sauntering around in the middle of the wicket when the ball eventually found its way back to Russell. Certainly the local umpire never signalled four, and Atherton had a good point to argue even if he did get overheated in doing so. In the end, it was Stewart with some quick, clear-minded thinking who defused the situation by calling up to the television box to produce the irrefutable evidence.
If England could have been reasonably pleased with their efforts on the first day, their satisfaction was tempered early yesterday when they lost three quick wickets to Curtly Ambrose, two of which came in the first over of the morning.
He sent back Graeme Hick with a beauty that held its line and bounced, having been delivered from wide on the return crease. Like Robin Smith's delivery the day before, it was an impossible ball to cope with and the batsman's only hope of survival is to miss it.
This is clearly what Lewis had thought he had done two balls later. Another brute of a ball climbed so steeply that the umpire adjudged it had brushed the underside of his right glove on its way through to the wicketkeeper. This was a decision based on guesswork, and Lewis trudged back to the pavilion looking more than a little displeased.
With Jack Russell watching all this from the other end, the left-hander clearly decided that attack was the only way for England to forge ahead. In that peculiar style of his, he cut and shovelled his way until he was the last man out for 38.
Every batsman bar Fraser, who was caught turning a ball off his hips from Courtney Walsh, had been dismissed from the bouncier southern end of this long oval ground. Apart from Andy Caddick, who was yorked, and Alec Stewart, who chopped on, it has been this steep bounce that has brought the wickets.
As the West Indies began their reply, Atherton carefully thought out his permutations in an effort to get the best from these lopsided conditions. It was actually Caddick who found favour with his captain, although Fraser looked the more dangerous as he ploughed in from the less bountiful Pavilion End, and he might have had Haynes caught at second slip by Hick had the ball carried another few inches.
This near miss did not seem to worry Haynes and he quickly found the middle of the bat. Having wasted the life in the pitch by sending down too many half-volleys - a trait he must cure himself of if he is to progress at this level - Caddick was promptly replaced by Lewis. It was then that England's luck began to turn when, in Lewis's first over, Haynes was struck a nasty blow to the gloves and had to retire.
That brought in Lara with the score on 51 and he was soon joined by another left-hander, Keith Arthurton, after Fraser had dismissed Richie Richardson, another victim undone by the steep bounce as he steered the ball to Atherton at third slip. Arthurton's batting has been on the wane since Jamaica and he lasted only three balls before Fraser had him caught behind, the batsman's feet seemingly glued to the spot as he attempted to locate a good- length ball.
As Shivnarine Chanderpaul emerged from the dressing room bearing his bat and the news that Haynes had split his finger and would probably not bat again that evening, much rested on his slim, youthful shoulders. Together, he and Jimmy Adams added 31 runs with all the painstaking care of archaeologists at a dig. However, it was Fraser returning from the friskier Southern end who began the collapse when he had Adams caught at first slip off a ball he might well have left alone.
Haynes then returned, though he probably wished he had stayed in the pavilion after he limply poked the ball to Atherton at short extra cover, the concern over his damaged finger clearly having a hand in the dismissal. Two balls later Junior Murray was also returning to the pavilion having edged an absolute corker that took the shoulder of the bat.
Benjamin fared little better as he fenced at a short ball and his departure meant that the West Indies had lost four wickets for a paltry eight runs. Some credit must go to Tufnell here, who played an important part s Fraser's foil. By keeping the left-handers quiet from over the wicket (his 21 overs only cost 35 runs), he provided teasing support to Fraser's probing line and length and he could have contributed more directly had Atherton not dropped a difficult diving chance when Chanderpaul drove the spinner into the covers.
Chanderpaul, too, was a steadying influence. and he has showed a unruffled maturity well beyond his years and first- class experience. Along with Ambrose, who combined over- exaggerated defence with lusty counter-attack, the two put on 54 runs for the eighth wicket.
However, it is Ambrose's mood with the ball that will decide this match.
Fletcher profile, page 12
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