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Cricket: Fraser still in England frame

A NEW England squad assembled here yesterday under new management, so naturally the bulk of the discussion on their arrival was concerned with those who were absent. The outcome seemed to be heartening for Angus Fraser, indifferent for Michael Atherton and irrevocably gloomy for Graham Thorpe.

For various reasons of injury and form all three, so central to so many of England's causes in this decade, have been omitted from the one-day squad who are about to contest the Carlton and United triangular series, a tournament which has assumed a greater significance this year because of the imminent World Cup.

In assessing their chances of making the final 15, David Graveney, who has taken over from Graham Gooch as manager of this section of the Australian tour was as candid as you would expect of a man who is also chairman of selectors and might like to keep a trick up his sleeve.

"I've had a long chat with Gus and told him he's still in our thoughts. I certainly don't see he's finished either as a Test or one-day bowler. He's had a remarkable period of time in his life. He's disappointed not be on this leg of the tour, but he could be extremely effective on English pitches in May and June."

Graveney mentioned other bowlers in similar vein (Peter Martin and Ian Austin), but it was Fraser for whom he reserved his greatest encouragement, a populist move by the chairman if ever there was one. Perhaps in similar vein he tried to be upbeat about Atherton, but warned that he would have to be fit and show himself to be for the one-day tournament in Sharjah in April.

As for Thorpe, who may be more essential to England's hopes than either of the other two, he reiterated the necessity for him to be fit for Sharjah. "But that looks completely unlikely," he said.

Ben Hollioake has been informed that he cannot continue living on his past achievements. "I've told Ben that he can't live on two knocks which happened a long time ago," Graveney said, "and he's aware of it."

Graveney has been in Australia since 28 December, but did not have the full squad of 16 players with him until yesterday. Several have been on duty in the Test series which has made it impossible to select a properly balanced side in the warm-up friendlies. Equally, that has given less experienced players such as Vince Wells and Mark Alleyne the chance to practise under floodlights.

"We have learned a lot of things since the Sharjah Tournament of 1997 where we won," Graveney said. "It's been on-going since then and we've dispensed with some things like the pinch-hitter in the shape of Ali Brown, though that was a matter of style not personnel. England in May will be different than anywhere else."

Graveney believes England's Test players will do well in the triangular series. "The downside might be the way they react to how the Ashes series has gone," he said. "Bodies tend to ache more when you've lost than the way they feel when you've won.

"They were disappointed they lost the series. But I've been pointing out that the events of the past couple of months have now gone. They don't play any more Test cricket until after the World Cup.

"So they know their objective. Everything is now about trying to win it. It only comes around every four years. We are the host nation, so it is an incentive. Everyone is desperate to get into that squad. I could probably name seven or eight of the names right now."

Places then are still there for the taking but good performances over the next month by the likes of Wells and Alleyne (who could, for instance, challenge John Crawley for the reserve wicketkeeper's berth) will make it difficult for other contenders even if their name is Fraser. England's last warm-up game before the series begins on Sunday was against a strong Queensland side at the Gabba today.