Cricket: The odd couple shake Australia: Glenn Moore reports from The Oval

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TWO YEARS after he walked out of The Oval worried that he may never play cricket again Angus Fraser last night celebrated his successful return to Test cricket.

After taking three wickets for 63 runs in 20 overs Fraser reported no problems from the back and hip injuries that kept him out of Test cricket for 31 months. He added, with customary understatement: 'It is nice to be back and bowling reasonably well.'

Fraser struck with his 17th ball, bringing one in to have Mark Waugh caught cutting. 'It was good to get a wicket so early,' he said. 'It means you are able to relax, if you have to wait for 20 overs you get a bit desperate for a wicket.

'When I came on I just tried to get it in the right area. I felt very relaxed, more than when I made my debut. I just tried to bowl the way I have for Middlesex the last few weeks.'

Devon Malcolm, who took three for 66 yesterday, was also playing when Fraser last appeared for England, in Adelaide in January 1991. They took four wickets for 305 runs between them. Since then, while Fraser has been fighting injury, Malcolm has been dropped and recalled four times in five series so their pairing for this Test hardly appeared the answer to England's bowling crisis.

But the figures are misleading. Fraser's accuracy and movement, and Malcolm's raw pace, make a potent combination - not least to the men concerned. Malcolm said before the Test how much he liked bowling with Fraser because it enabled him to let a few loose ones go in the knowledge that runs were tight at the other end.

That was underlined yesterday with the dismissal of Steve Waugh who, clearly unsettled by Malcolm's speed, played inside a very good Fraser leg-cutter.

'Devon bowled very quickly early on,' Fraser said. 'He certainly shook some of their players up. He made the early inroads and that made a difference. They could not be as positive as they would like to be.'

Fraser, who received a very pessimistic diagnosis on his future at this ground in 1991, admitted: 'There were times when I got a bit fed up and wondered if I would get back.'

He said Ted Dexter had been helpful. 'He saw me earlier this year and made a few comments, then sent me a few pictures of positions other bowlers get into. It was nice to know they were taking an interest.

'I'm knackered but fine. The only problems were with a swollen finger when I was hit batting and it did not interfere much.

'We have had a couple of good days, the blokes have played better than before this summer.'

Away from the crease Malcolm and Fraser make an unlikely pair of fast bowlers. Malcolm, bespectacled, quiet and studious; Fraser, ungainly and lugubrious.

But appearances deceive. Three-and-a-half years ago it was their bowling in Jamaica that set up England's first victory over the West Indies since 1974.

While it is too early for an outbreak of wild optimism, neither, on the evidence of yesterday, should pessimism reign unconfined.

The Test and County Cricket Board have announced that Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart and Robin Smith are to be given full winter tour contracts in advance of team selection. Secondary contracts go to Graeme Hick, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Martin McCague, Mark Lathwell, Andy Caddick, Mark Ilott, Alan Igglesden and Peter Such.