Cricket: Harvest time for Fraser

Midd'x 442-8dec & 171-1dec Hampshire 306-5dec & 97 Middlesex won by 217 runs
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Dare the Middlesex faithful dream that the Championship pennant could once again flutter in the breeze above St John's Wood? August can be a cruel month for the contenders but this emphatic victory over Hampshire puts Middlesex only 26 points behind the leaders Kent with a game in hand. More importantly, their key players are performing when they are most needed and none more so than the old warhorse, Angus Fraser.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest misfortunes to befall English cricket in recent years was the hip injury that curtailed his international career. At his best he was a devastatingly accurate bowler who begrudged the batsman every run. He prospered because he used his height consistently to bang the ball in just short of a length so the batsman often fended it away off the splice of his bat. However, the injury restricted his movement and the newer, slightly slower version which emerged in 1993 was not as effective. Yesterday, in the glorious sunshine, he turned back the clock with a magnificent spell of fast-medium bowling.

Hampshire needed 315 to win but Fraser, pounding in from the Pavilion End, took the first five wickets to leave them struggling on 50 for 5. If this form continues, Mark Ramprakash could well find himself clutching the Britannic Assurance trophy in his first season as captain and a plane ticket to the West Indies.

The selectors must ignore his previous problems in Test cricket and examine the new, more mature Ramprakash. For years he was a wonderful talent searching for an identity, swaggering around and affecting a West Indian lilt to his speech. The arrogance of youth has gone, replaced by a mentally stronger, level-headed man whose talent and form must afford him one more attempt to claim his rightful place in the England line-up.

Nasser Hussain conquered his own internal battles when he was made captain for an England A tour and then vice-captain to Mike Atherton. If Atherton does step down at the end of this series, as has been suggested, then the selectors should gamble and entrust Ramprakash with the vice-captaincy. In one move they would have removed any lingering self-doubt that Ramprakash might have. Every time he walked out to bat he would not be trying to conquer himself or do his immense talent justice but fighting for the team, his team. That is what is happening at Middlesex now.