Cricket: Fraser has his back to the wall

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The Independent Online
FOR SOME players, especially those certain of their places, the State matches between Tests offers the chance of some decent match practice. For others though, the opportunity is a bit like a rope with two uses, and depending on how you fare, it can either be a lifeline to selection, or something to hang yourself by.

With 56 wickets from 13 Tests in 1998, few would doubt that Angus Fraser has earned his right to be England's leading bowler, and an automatic Test selection. Yet, dumped for the Perth Test in favour of the pacier Alex Tudor, Fraser finds himself having to impress his doubters, as he has several times before in his career.

Horses for courses is fine if we are talking thoroughbreds, but when you are closer to the donkey end of the spectrum, the rules are different. Instead of perhaps trundling a few overs against Victoria this weekend and keeping the joints oiled, Fraser is now under pressure to bowl flat out and take wickets. Like most bowlers, he is not a happy bunny.

"I know there are no guarantees and all that," Fraser said, "but when you've had the kind of year I've had, you feel you've earned the right not to have to be at 100 per cent in a State game. In an ideal world, you'd save yourself for the big matches."

Fraser is a trooper and a damned good one and you can see his point of view, and it will not be easy after nine months of non-stop intensive Test cricket to make something as relatively mundane as playing Victoria in an empty MCG, the highlight of your life.

To make matters worse, at least from a combative point of view, Victoria, as has been the habit of most English counties against visiting sides, are fielding a weakened side. With two Shield matches coming up after the England game, Victoria are resting their key players, a retinue that includes Shane Warne, Damien Fleming, Matthew Elliott, Paul Reiffel and the promising David Saker.

A depleted side holds little allure for anyone, but while there is little doubt that Warne's presence would have created a frisson of excitement, you can understand why, after years of psychological dominance over England, he is wary of exposing himself before time.

Since his operation, the Australian media have logged his every move and it is now a question of whether Warne or Christmas will come first.

Although the circumstances are different, Fraser like Warne, is also having to prove himself all over again.

"I feel I'm under pressure when I don't deserve to be," said Fraser, the old county pro in him speaking up. "The way I've been brought up at Middlesex is that not only are you competing against the opposition but to be the best bowler in the side as well.

"In Perth I felt delighted for Alex [Tudor], but because I wasn't playing, I felt a bit helpless too. You don't mind being outbowled, but when you aren't in the team, your destiny is not really your own."

There is also the danger, that by trying to impress - as Fraser surely must over the next few days - that a player deserts the method that has brought him to prominence, and in its place adopts madness. Experience, however, is on Fraser's side and he is unlikely to fall into that trap.

"You have to have faith and stick to what you do best. My strength is that I know my limitations. I'm not a Glenn McGrath or a Curtly Ambrose, much as I'd like to be. Although conditions haven't perhaps suited me yet on tour, I'm not about to do anything different."

If Fraser is fighting for a place in the next Test, he is at least fit enough to do so. Graham Thorpe has no such guarantee and the Surrey left- hander, back permitting, is playing for his right to remain on tour.

Unlike his captain, Alec Stewart, and the opening batsman Michael Atherton, who both need runs under their belts, Thorpe, presuming he will miss the one-dayers, must prove his back is robust enough for another month on the road. As he and Fraser are concerned, it promises to be an interesting few days.

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