Cricket: Fraser fighting for added thrust: The man England needs is back in shape but not in form. Rob Steen on a seamer still falling short of his former fire

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WHILE Aamir Sohail was flogging the England attack at Old Trafford, some familiar cries went up again. Where was an English seamer to whom a good length was second nature, as opposed to a freak of nature? Where would the selectors find someone who regarded every single conceded as a personal insult? Where was the nagging accuracy to bore batsmen to distraction? Where, in other words, was Angus Fraser?

Far, alas, from the action. At 9am last Wednesday, Fraser was already in the players' quarters at Uxbridge, ready to take that 6ft 5in frame for a run while the dew was still glistening. With a career to resurrect, there is no time to loll around.

First the good news. After two years of largely enforced idleness punctuated by a hip operation last autumn, the man who was on the way to becoming the most reliable bowler to shoulder an England attack since Alec Bedser is once again treading the boards with a vengeance. Progress, however, has been slow. He may have made a vital contribution to Middlesex's domination of this season's Sunday League, in the county championship Fraser had claimed just four victims up to yesterday.

Renowned at Lord's as a highly accomplished moaner, Fraser cites comatose pitches as one of the factors but otherwise reserves most of his whingeing for himself. 'I bowled too many bad balls yesterday. Went for four an over and ended up with 1 for 72. I had Lamby (Allan Lamb) dropped and another catch put down off a no-ball, so it could have been 3 for 50. At least I'm finding the edges.

'But I want to be able to open the paper in the morning and see good figures again. I'm happy with my pace. I've started trying to hit the wicket harder - no problem. It's rhythm and consistency that's lacking.'

One old hand who has offered assistance is the Middlesex treasurer, Alan Moss, who might easily have doubled his hoard of nine caps had his contemporaries not included Trueman and Statham. Moss told Fraser that he had detected a subtle change in his action, so they are now comparing video footage of the new model with film of the prototype whose 5 for 28 on the opening day at Sabina Park three winters ago gave England their first sniff of five-day success against the West Indies for 16 years. It was performance that helped make Fraser to fixture and fitting status after only four caps.

Unsurprisingly, the physical hurdles persist. Granted, Fraser's action has always been stiff and cumbersome, not exactly an asset for someone who has averaged a back-breaking 46 overs per Test in 11 appearances. If Michael Holding was all Rolls Royce purr, Fraser is a Ford Popular, forever puffing and panting up some distant hill into the teeth of a howling gale. Now the pivot at the point of delivery seems tentative, suggesting freedom of movement is not yet up to scratch. It may never be.

'I've still got aches and pains and I'm aware of the discomfort,' Fraser admits. 'But it's all tolerable. It's better than I thought it would be.' Weekly physiotherapy sessions keep the area around his backside loose. He also works out on days off, strengthening the hip and surrounding muscles, and has recently started sprint training.

Mental fitness is another matter. 'For a while you doubt you can be what you were. I don't think I realised that it was continuous cricket that made me the bowler I was. I thought I'd get the hip right and just walk back to where I was. I'm optimistic I can get back to where I was, but it will take a lot longer than I imagined.'

In these days of squad sessions and international contracts (Fraser was one of the first batch to be so honoured) the England family has been suitably supportive, maintaining contact at a discreet distance. 'Graham Gooch has rung a couple of times to see how I'm getting on, but there would be more pressure if he or Micky (Stewart) were ringing up all the time. They want me to go at my own pace, which is what I want.'

Mike Gatting, conversely, has been his customary up-and-at-'em self. 'Gatt's been great. There was a spell when I was happy just playing, but he put the pressure on, to draw that bit extra from me. I needed that. He's been strong, too. I always want to bowl more overs but he tells me to pee off to fine leg. I'll swear for a while but I know he's right.

'The way Sohail was batting I'm glad I wasn't at Old Trafford. I really missed being part of the international set-up last year because I wasn't playing, but now I am, I'm not frustrated. Now I can get off my arse and do something.' If the flesh remains vulnerable, the spirit atones.

(Photograph omitted)