On first impressions Angus Fraser lives up to his friendly, affable image. Driving me to his house in Pinner, he begins a mock guided tour of the suburb of all suburbs. Once inside his home, he hurriedly kicks to one side all the toys left lying around by his two young children, and makes self- deprecating jokes about the state of the room.
Having made me a cup of tea, he leaps up apologetically as I discover not one, but two children's toothbrushes inserted down my armchair, and then answers the door to his father, who arrives all prepared for a day of odd-jobbing around the house that the Frasers, due main0ly to Angus's frantic benefit year with Middlesex, have not yet found the time to work on.
Turn his attention, finally, to the small matters of cricket and the England tour to the West Indies, and Fraser suddenly sheds his image. Good old Gus, the gentle giant, the right man to keep a dressing-room happy, and all the other platitudes he has received over the years, fly out of the window. This man means business in the Caribbean. He has more than a few points to prove, and he does not mind telling anyone who cares to listen that he is far from satisfied with what he has achieved so far in his career as an international cricketer.
"I made my Test debut in 1989 and in all the time since I've played in 32 Tests," he says. "That's an average of four a year, when you can play in at least 10. I've bagged 119 wickets at an average of 29, so I've got to be pleased with those figures. But the reality is that I should have played more. I'm aiming for 200 Test wickets, so that I can be recognised as one of the greatest England bowlers of all time. If anyone thinks I intend the West Indies to be my swan-song, then they can think again."
It has been two years since Fraser last played in a Test, in Johannesburg, where England lost the match and as a result the series to South Africa - it was also where Ray Illingworth revealed his admirable man-management skills by blaming Devon Malcolm. Before this, he lost two years between 1991-93 with injury, and then found himself in and out of the England team, as selectors came and went.
"An injury makes you realise how precarious this job is," he admits. "When I came back to the England side in 1993 I appreciated it that much more. It also knocked the gloss off my career when I then found myself being dumped and pissed about.
"I feel as if I've missed too many games and been forced to walk away from too many situations. It's left me feeling harshly treated. I have a record as good as any English bowler in the past 10 years. I rarely have a bad day and on a good day I can run through any side. Even if the wicket's not in my favour I'll wear batsmen down, like Glenn McGrath, although some might say a poor man's Glenn McGrath. By containing batters I've created wickets for others."
I wondered if this aspect of his game pleased him. "Not really," he answers, with a slight grin. "I don't mind the bowler at the other end getting four wickets, as long as I get five." So he would not have liked to be Tony Lock, then, when Jim Laker bagged those 19 wickets, and then later praised his bowling partner for his help? The grin turns into a full-blooded laugh. "Bollocks!"
Fair enough. Fraser returns to his point. "If I feel like this with my record, then how do other bowlers who haven't fared as well feel? It knocks the gloss off the team ideal, because it makes you more selfish. It's a natural thing. When your neck's on the line, you have to make sure you survive."
Beneath the friendly veneer lurks quite a fighter. "Too right," Fraser agrees. "I've always worked on the principle of giving it my best shot because I only have a certain amount of playing time in this game, and I intend to make the most of it. I don't want any question marks over my career. I've done reasonably well, but I'm nowhere near satisfied. I don't know whether I ever will be."
Still, even Fraser was beginning to give up hope in the autumn. He had missed three Test series, plus the World Cup debacle in 1996 and he knew that if he failed to make the squad for the West Indies then the Test obituaries would have been written. "I played in the first two Tests in South Africa, got left out of the next two, and then played pretty well in the last Test, despite our defeat. But I got left out of the one-dayers, then the World Cup, and just seemed to disappear after that.
"Since then, I've found myself on television and radio being described as Angus Fraser, the former England player. I've thought: `Hang on, I'm not finished yet!' Mind you, I accept that if I hadn't gone on this tour, I would have been struggling."
Why does he think he has bounced back? "Well, I have a great deal more confidence in the current regime of selectors than I have in the past. It seems to be much better now than before. But our attitude still remains that the bowlers we choose are affected by the sides we play against, which I'm not sure is right.
"Ian Chappell said to me last summer: `The thing about English Test cricket is that it worries too much about the opposition.' I think he's right. We find ourselves going down other people's avenues. Last summer, Paul Reiffel, and in particular Glenn McGrath, did well by banging the ball down on and just outside the off stump. All of a sudden, it's in vogue again with us."
Which, incidentally, is convenient for Fraser. "Yes, and although some people argued that my selection was a retrograde step because they were returning to someone, as opposed to turning to a new player, it makes sense to me. I still believe I can perform at the highest level, I still believe I have a great deal to offer, and I still believe I am the best person to carry out the job I do. If they are looking for someone to bowl like Glenn McGrath, then I'm the best candidate."
How, I wonder, does he react to the murmurs about Fraser's selection being down to the fact that he is one of Mike Atherton's best mates? "Yes, I've heard that one too," he says. "I find such comments very hurtful, and just about the worst thing you can say about any sportsman, because it says that my selection is down to a friendship, rather than my ability.
"Ray Illingworth has commented that I always seemed to bowl at the right time, which suited my figures. Well, that's absolute garbage and it's insulting. I'm not going to be a companion in the Caribbean. In fact, Atherton's dropped me more than anybody else, so I don't think accusations of friendly selections stand up."
Neither, it transpires, is Fraser too enamoured with the general assumption in the media that his main use in the West Indies will be to boost the younger players, be a gelling factor in the dressing-room, and play in some of the provincial games. The old warhorse, as he has frequently been described in the past week, sees it differently.
"Since the squad was announced, I've sat down with selectors and had a good chat with them about my selection," he says. "They made it clear to me that they picked me because they reckoned I'm one of the best five seamers in the country. They know that I'm as competitive as anyone, and I've made it known to them that I have every intention of competing very hard for a Test place.
"If I return with one or two Tests under my belt, I'm going to be a disappointed cricketer. I'm looking to play in four or maybe all five of the Test matches, and I'm aiming to surprise a lot of people. I'll be more of a force than people imagine. I'm only 32, for goodness' sake, and there's a good three years left me in yet."
The one-day success in Sharjah is greeted in the Fraser house with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is good news. "It can only benefit the rest of us in the West Indies, because the Sharjah boys in the Test squad will fly out confident and happy, and it never does any harm to beat the West Indies twice. Having said that, they will be up for us too. The Lara and Walsh rift has been blown out of all proportion, and they just didn't enjoy being in Pakistan. I think they'll be a different proposition on home turf."
On the other hand, the success has meant the inclusion of the likes of Dougie Brown into the end of the one-day series, at the expense of Fraser's place. "I'm not wildly happy about that," Fraser admits. "The boys did well in Sharjah, so they deserved to be picked, but I've missed out on so much over the years that I now want to play in every England game going. Still, I'll just have to make sure I get it right during the Test series."
Indeed he will. If his determination to stamp on all the doubters and knockers means that he loses some of his well-known friendliness for a couple of months, then so be it. Angus Fraser has some catching up to do on lost time and opportunities, and, judging by his mood, he has every intention of doing just that.Reuse content