Cricket: Fraser the key to hope of victory: England seek 350 total

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND have made such a remarkable comeback from the trauma of their 46 all out in Trinidad that it is enough to make regular watchers break out into a cold sweat. If it is at all possible to make a total porridge out of a second-innings lead of 222 with seven wickets and two days in hand, they are undoubtedly the one side capable of pulling it off.

If winning becomes a habit, then so too does losing, and England are registered junkies in this particular department. History beckons (the West Indies are unbeaten at the Kensington Oval since 1935) and it is now as much about bottle as ability.

This is a pitch that shows no signs of the wear and tear and increasingly treacherous bounce of the previous three Tests, and given it is almost as flat as most of England's bowling, it is difficult to imagine how many runs Michael Atherton considers constitutes a decent safety net. Nothing less than 400 most probably.

In fact, when Atherton ponders the bowling at his disposal, he will not feel totally relaxed with anything under 600. He must have seriously considered locking Angus Fraser inside his hotel bedroom during the rest day and sending down to room service for several tons of cotton wool. Fraser's career-best 8 for 75 was a herculean effort, but he was almost on his knees at the end of it and it is not an overstatement to say that if he has nothing left to give, England will not win.

If Atherton gets enough runs to play with, Philip Tufnell will have more scope for tossing the ball up than he has thus far, but his largely defensive role has been thrust upon him by the chronic inability of Chris Lewis and Andrew Caddick to locate any semblance of line and length.

Caddick is at least as puzzling a case as Lewis in that he has the ability to become a good Test match bowler, but he has the unfortunate deportment of a man who thinks he knows it all already. As long as he thinks he is Richard Hadlee, rather than merely looking like him, he will not become the bowler he is capable of becoming.

Happily for England, the player so keen to learn that he even commits the ultimate sacrifice of sitting down to listen to Geoffrey Boycott dripping words of wisdom into his ear is still at the crease. Since he made his debut tour here four years ago, Alec Stewart has turned himself from a flashy but flawed strokeplayer into a high-class Test batsman.

It was his dad who said, on that same 1990 tour, that 'the West Indies don't play like us - they like to hit the ball', but with the exception of Brian Lara at full throttle, Stewart hits the ball more sweetly than any West Indian.

He made a century on his birthday in the first innings, and is now within 38 runs of joining three of cricket's immortals. Only three batsmen have ever made two centuries in the same Test match against the West Indies, Sunil Gavaskar, Doug Walters and Greg Chappell, but Stewart is now a shade of odds-on to become the fourth.

Without Stewart and Atherton, England's batting would have been a total disaster on this tour. Robin Smith was out on Sunday in precisely the same way he was out in the warm-up game in Grenada, lbw playing no shot, and it is not just because he has shaved off his moustache that he is unrecognisable from the player he was here four years ago.

Graeme Hick, it has to be said, has been all too familiar thus far - tense, jittery, introspective - and the reason for this may not so much be fear of fast bowling (even though he likes it whizzing past his visor less than some) as fear of failure.

Hick's desire to prove himself at Test level, plus the suspicion that he is not one of life's natural unwinders, has stifled the uninhibited strokeplay that made him such a prodigy at lower levels, but he has now made 52 not out against a West Indian attack that has clearly gone down a couple of gears and a century here might be the making of him.

In fact, the West Indian attack has failed to cause too much ducking and weaving even though they are delivering the ball from less than the regulation 22 yards. Stewart, when 39, was caught off one of a mind-boggling 26 no-balls in the innings so far (50 in the match) and if England pull it off, it will be an incredible feat assisted by incredible feet.