Cricket / Sixth Test: Happy returns for Malcolm and Fraser: Hostility from rejuvenated pace pair puts England in unlikely commanding position in sixth Test: Martin Johnson reports from The Oval

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England 390; Australia 239-8

LET'S not get too smug about this, but the sooner the Australians sign up Ted Dexter, scrap the Adelaide Cricket Academy, shave off those nasty moustaches, and start cramming a few foreigners into the team, the sooner they will be able to give the likes of England a decent game.

After a summer in which the Australian batsman have been in more danger of being knocked over by a handful of confetti, their first exposure to some high velocity bullets produced a feeling not too far removed from glee here yesterday. Rodney Marsh had a point when he wrote off most English bowlers as pie throwers, but there are still one or two of the upper crust variety tucked away amid the puff pastry.

Ten Test matches have gone by since England last registered a first-innings lead, but Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser and Steve Watkin bowled so well yesterday, not to mention, given Australia's occasional propensity for overstepping the thin line between aggression and nastiness, undisguised hostility, that this rare statistic should not be long delayed this morning. England 380, Australia 239 for 8. Ye gods. Break out the bunting and declare a national holiday.

In the Gooch era, no fewer than 34 bowlers have been employed, some of them bordering on the adequate, and the fact that Malcolm's eyesight has not always been as sharp as his pace, and Fraser's body has not often passed an MOT, has played a large part in his current status. Broken to the ranks, and sheltering under the helmet at short leg. You could only guess at how the old boy came to end up under the lid, but the dressing-room conversation might have gone: 'Cor blimey, Mike, I'm a bit old to be doing fine leg at both ends again.' 'Okay, Graham, try this on and save your legs.'

Gooch has stood up to some of the world's meanest bowlers in his time, but greater courage and patriotism hath no man than the 40-year-old prepared to bend his creaking knees in the junior pro's position when Malcolm is preparing to launch his unguided missiles. Yesterday, though, Gooch took the first two catches as Malcolm steamed in on a pitch that might have been made for him. Fraser, returning for the first time since the Adelaide Test of 1991, required only 17 deliveries to mark his comeback with a wicket, and it was Fraser who broke the back of Australia's innings by removing both Waughs and, after 165 minutes of defiance from the Australian captain, Allan Border.

Fraser's one regret might have been in failing to take the scalp, either figuratively or literally, of Merv Hughes, with whom he had what is euphemistically described as a frank exchange of views when the roles were reversed on Thursday. That particular pleasure fell to Steve Watkin, undeservedly wicketless until he removed Hughes and Paul Reiffel in the space of three balls.

Hughes had earlier cut an even sillier figure than usual, bowling with trousers at half mast while England's last three wickets went down for 27, although it was an appropriate enough piece of tailoring given the length of his bowling.

Malcolm was rarely guilty of overpitching either, but was considerably more threatening with his lift off a fuller length, and his nod and smile approach when he had come close to tearing off a chinstrap was a good deal more un-nerving for the batsman than a volley of abuse from a revolving moustache.

In his second over, Michael Slater was too late on his attempted hook, and the ball ballooned high enough off for Gooch to uncurl himself from the foetal position and take the catch. David Boon was undone by the bounce, bat-padding to Gooch, and in the first over of Malcolm's second spell, his extra pace induced Mark Taylor to thick edge to backward point rather than rasp another of the cover boundaries that highlighted his three-hour innings of 70.

Fraser's first victim was Mark Waugh, edging an off-cutter to provide Alec Stewart with a head high catch. Stewart may have his faults as a stumper, but these are not likely to be exposed in the West Indies. His agility is such that he would have broken the transfer record for a goalkeeper had there been a football scout on the ground yesterday.

Fraser dismissed the elder Waugh (who plays fast bowling with the sort of conviction that makes Graeme Hick resemble Robin Smith) with a good one and Border provided him with his 50th wicket in 12 Tests when he slashed a ball angled across him to Stewart. It would have been an even better day had Ian Healy and Shane Warne not ended it with an unbroken stand of 43, but let's not be greedy.

SCOREBOARD FROM THE OVAL

SIXTH CORNHILL TEST

(Second day; England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings

G A Gooch c Border b S Waugh. . . . . . . . . . . . . .56

(90 min, 66 balls, 10 fours)

* M A Atherton lbw b S Waugh. . . . . . . . . . . . . .50

(153 min, 94 balls, 9 fours)

G A Hick c Warne b May. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .80

(142 min, 107 balls, 14 fours, 1 six)

M P Maynard b Warne. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

(38 min, 34 balls, 3 fours)

N Hussain c Taylor b Warne. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30

(61 min, 54 balls, 6 fours)

A J Stewart c Healy b Hughes. . . . . . . . . . . . .76

(117 min, 94 balls, 12 fours, 1 six)

M R Ramprakash c Healy b Hughes. . . . . . . . . . . .6

(23 min, 22 balls, 1 four)

A R C Fraser b Reiffel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28

(140 min, 92 balls, 4 four)

S L Watkin c S Waugh b Reiffel. . . . . . . . . . . .13

(38 min, 32 balls, 1 four)

P M Such c M Waugh b Hughes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

(22 min, 27 balls, 1 four)

D E Malcolm not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

(2 min)

Extras (lb7 w1 nb9). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

Total (420 min, 101.5 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . .380

Fall: 1-88 (Gooch), 2-143 (Atherton), 3-177 (Maynard), 4-231 (Hick), 5-253 (Hussain), 6-272 (Ramprakash), 7-339 (Stewart), 8-363 (Watkin), 9-374 (Such).

Bowling: Hughes 30-7-121-3 (10-2-59-0, 6-2-21-0, 6-3- 23-1, 8-0-18-2); Reiffel 28.5-4-88-2 (nb11) (7-0-24-0, 3-0-15-0, 7-1-14-0, 11.5-3-35-2); S Waugh 12-2-45-2 (one spell); Warne 20-5-70-2 (7-1-27-1, 13-4-43-1); M Waugh 1-0-17-0; May 10-3-32-1 (7-1-26-1, 3-2-6-0).

Progress: Thursday: 50: 61 min, 10.2 overs. 100: 110 min, 22 overs. Lunch: 115 for 1 (Atherton 40, Hick 12) in 25 overs. 150: 156 min, 34.2 overs. 200: 215 min, 49 overs. Tea: 237 for 4 (Hussain 21, Stewart 1) in 56 overs. 250: 253 min, 59.4 overs. 300: 314 min, 76.3 overs. New ball: 339 for 6 after 86.1 overs. 350: 380 min, 91.5 overs. Close: 353 for 7 (Fraser 15, Watkin 8) in 92 overs. Yesterday: Innings closed at 11.43.

AUSTRALIA - First Innings

M A Taylor c Hussain b Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . .70

(181 min, 134 balls, 10 fours)

M J Slater c Gooch b Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

(11 min, 7 balls, 1 four)

D C Boon c Gooch b Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

(33 min, 23 balls, 1 four)

M E Waugh c Stewart b Fraser. . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

(37 min, 26 balls, 1 four)

* A R Border c Stewart b Fraser. . . . . . . . . . .48

(163 min, 107 balls, 6 fours)

S R Waugh b Fraser. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

(37 min, 36 balls, 3 fours)

I A Healy not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39

(110 min, 70 balls, 2 fours)

M G Hughes c Ramprakash b Watkin. . . . . . . . . . .7

(25 min, 25 balls, 1 four)

P R Reiffel c Maynard b Watkin. . . . . . . . . . . . .0

(2 min, 3 balls)

S K Warne not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

(49 min, 36 balls, 1 four)

Extras (b3 lb5 w2 nb4). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

Total (for 8, 332 min, 77 overs). . . . . . . . .239

Fall: 1-9 (Slater), 2-30 (Boon), 3-53 (M Waugh), 4-132 (Taylor), 5-164 (S Waugh), 6-181 (Border), 7-196 (Hughes), 8-196 (Reiffel).

To bat: T B A May.

Bowling: Malcolm 20-4-70-3 (nb2 w1) (11-2-37-2, 7-2- 24-1, 2-0-9-0); Watkin 23-4-66-2 (w1) (7-1-17-0, 6-1-23- 0, 6-2-9-2, 4-0-17-0); Fraser 20-3-63-3 (nb3) (7-1-16-1, 4- 0-22-0, 9-2-25-2); Such 14-4-32-0 (11-4-23-0, 3-0-9-0).

Progress: Lunch: 42 for 2 (Taylor 17, M Waugh 4) in 15 overs. 50: 79 min, 18.2 overs. 100: 146 min, 34.1 overs. Tea: 134 for 4 (Border 31, S Waugh 1) in 44 overs. 150: 214 min, 50.3 overs. 200: 290 min, 66.1 overs.

Umpires: B J Meyer and M J Kitchen.

TV Replay Umpire: A A Jones.

Match Referee: C H Lloyd.

The odd couple; County scoreboard and reports, page 48

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