Cricket: Yesterday's man looks for a new tomorrow

Simon O'Hagan hears Angus Fraser stake an early claim for an Ashes place
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The Independent Online
Angus Fraser's first winter without an England tour since 1992- 93 has not been so bad. He has seen something of his family at last - his wife Denise and their children, Alexander, nearly four, and Bethan, nearly two. He has been to watch Liverpool, to a reception at Buckingham Palace and on holiday to Barbados. He has kept in shape at a gym near his home in Harrow, and netted at Middlesex's other headquarters, in Finchley. And he has turned up on Sky, commenting on an England team that, not for the first time, seem to have abandoned him while looking as much as ever in need of his sterling qualities.

England's long, and in many ways extraordinary, trip to Zimbabwe and New Zealand has thrown up a mass of conflicting evidence on which to judge the team's general state of health as the ultimate test looms - this summer's visit of Australia. For every plus there has been a minus, nowhere more so than in the pace-bowling department, in which the resurgence of Darren Gough and, latterly, Andrew Caddick has had to be offset by the muted impact of Alan Mullally and Chris Silverwood.

A lot can happen between now and 5 June, when the First Test starts at Edgbaston, but along with Dominic Cork, Gough looks certain to be in the XI, and you would bet on Caddick too. But after that? A fourth seamer's place is up for grabs, if only in the squad, and while, as a strike-bowling option, Dean Headley is probably now at the front of the queue, the case for Fraser - that wonder of control, stamina and resourcefulness - remains strong.

Dropping Fraser has been a pastime for England selectors in recent years, but it has seldom happened without leaving the feeling that this most whole-hearted of cricketers has been a victim more of fashion than logic. The last of his 32 Tests was the infamous Cape Town defeat just over a year ago, at the end of a South Africa tour in which he bowled well in the Second Test and was left out of the next two. The management then omitted him from the World Cup in the belief - far from borne out - that England needed versatility more than ability.

By last summer, Fraser was yesterday's man, and he didn't help his cause by having what, by his standards, was only a moderate season for Middlesex - 49 Championship wickets at 33. "It wasn't great, but it wasn't dreadful either," he recalled on Friday, sitting on the balcony overlooking the Finchley nets.

"I didn't really expect to be selected for the winter, but then you sit down and look at it and you think - well it's almost as though the grass is always greener. I'm not one to complain, but there's only Gough who gets wickets cheaper for England than I do, and yet you continually feel you have to keep proving yourself. You shake your head and wonder what they're looking for at times. Surely you've got to identify who you think your good players are and stick by them. Other countries do. The turnover of bowlers here is some concern. In this country there's always going to be somebody somewhere taking wickets, but that doesn't always mean he's good enough."

Fraser, now 31, has been working hard on his fitness. It's his benefit year, and that means a constant round of dinners and functions, and he's limiting his intake of alcohol to two evenings a week, and in moderation. "I still feel I'm capable of performing as well as anybody. I don't like blowing my own trumpet but I'm pretty sure I could bowl better than some of what I've seen this winter. Having said that, the team have finished strongly and they may well stick with those players. But if there is a gap I'd like to think that I'm being looked at."

A recall for Fraser would require a change in philosophy, however. Variety has become the name of the game, and England have built their attack around bowlers who seem to want to try something different with every ball. It's a laudable enough aim, but it can backfire, and David Lloyd's goal of "session cricket" might be better achieved by the sort of sustained reliability that Fraser can offer.

"Someone with my approach is not so much of a gambler," he said. "Persevering with line and length rather than keeping batsmen guessing means I don't have the inspirational spells where everything goes right, but then bowling like that you can be a liability. I bowl the way I bowl and I'm not going to change it. I may be a casualty of England trying to find bowlers who can do everything. But such bowlers come around very infrequently."

Naturally Fraser wants to be involved against Australia more than any other team. "With all due respect to the countries England have played this winter, what you achieve against them won't be remembered as much what you achieve against a country like Australia. And my view has always been that you go into this game to achieve things." The last time England played Australia here - in the Sixth Test in 1993 - they won at the Oval and Fraser was man of the match with eight wickets. The new chairman of selectors might do well to think hard before denying him the chance to do it again.

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