Cricket: Shaken Fraser puts faith in Gough's return

England's under-achieving cricketers are pondering another crushing Test defeat. But will it help them? By Derek Pringle
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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S SITUATION at finding themselves 1-0 down may not have changed, but the time spent on analysis surely has. Not so long ago, a sound drubbing would have been followed by a forlorn shrug, a quick pack, and a headlong rush to rejoin county colleagues at the next venue, usually several hours away. Now it seems, there is actually time to mull things over, though judging by the way England's batting twice capitulated, time is not likely to be the healer many would have it to be.

Time - something England, with three Tests to play, are fast running out of - can even be slowed down if needs be. The slo-mo button on the video has become the provider of sport's forensic evidence and Angus Fraser spent much of yesterday looking at aspects of the Lord's Test.

For a non-apologist like Fraser, re-running the game would have made gruesome viewing. "It didn't feel like we bowled badly, but maybe we did," Fraser said. "That's what I'm hoping to find out by looking at the videos."

What Fraser will see of himself is a steady but uninspired bowling performance. In some ways his spell with the new ball was more like that of a first change bowler, the line - eight inches outside off stump - being one most prudent bowlers adopt, when the pitch is flat and the ball old.

If England believed they could bowl South Africa out for under 250, having put them in to bat, Fraser ought to have bowled a more aggressive line. His support of Dominic Cork was steady but rarely challenging, which forced Stewart to overbowl the Derbyshire captain in a bid to improve on the first four wickets he'd taken.

"I don't believe the pitch did that much and the ball only seamed about occasionally," Fraser said. "It was definitely drier than Edgbaston.

"What I think happened was that the surface quickened up, so any subsequent movement was harder to combat. Also they have three bowlers in Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis who all swing the ball about at a good pace, whereas we only have Corky."

As the scores clearly suggest, South Africa's bowlers did get far more out of the pitch than England's, but then they always believed they would. Having demolished the home side in their first innings for 110 after making 360 themselves, Donald and Pollock swung the ball around under cloud at a ferocious pace.

"We can't use it as an excuse when people bowl well," explained Fraser. "At this level the surprise should come when people bowl badly. Likewise the batting. Jonty Rhodes played fantastically well, but we shouldn't be surprised when he does."

Rhodes, who also prevented his side collapsing at Edgbaston, was undoubtedly the catalyst that spurred his bowlers into action. Coming in at 46 for 4, after Alec Stewart's decision to bowl first had looked to be a correct and decisive one, Rhodes played what was certainly his finest Test innings to date.

A committed Christian, Rhodes puts it down to his faith. When asked by David Gower whether he believed in the Lord's factor, he put away the verbal half-volley as smartly as any dispatched during his century: "I believe in my Lord," he said. "I don't know about any English Lord's."

But there is clearly belief and belief, and twice in two days England's middle order batted like Christians, though they more resembled the ones who were thrown to the lions than those who believed in miracles. Only Nasser Hussain, Michael Atherton and Stewart himself batted with any conviction, Hussain's battling century was his second in three Tests to be made in a losing cause.

Fraser is cautious over what has to be done. "I know we keep on saying it, but it is the usual test of character thing, of coming back from behind. Hopefully Darren Gough will be fit for the next Test and we can do that."

As far as umpiring decisions went, England did not get the rub of the green and it cost them. Indeed, it cost Mark Ramprakash pounds 850 and a one- match ban suspended for six months, after he queried umpire Darrell Hair's decision over a caught behind that came off his elbow.

Of course there will always be those for whom dissent is a punishable offence, irrespective of mitigating circumstances, like not being out. Had Ramprakash made a show of verbally abusing umpire Hair rather than muttering an aside heard by no one outside a 10-foot radius, then a ban would definitely have been the right course of action.

As it is, television's ever-closer prying eye, which shows players shaking their heads and muttering to themselves, is creating stories rather than reporting them. With one down and three Tests to go, there are far more important things England need to mind than their P's and Q's.

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