Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Favourite Cricketer: Angus Fraser by James Marsh

In our continuing series "My Favourite Cricketer", Pavilion Opinions' James Marsh selects the bedrock of English bowling in the 1990s, hearkens back to a man cut from the very Bedser cloth - Angus Fraser.

Number one Test side, World T20 champions and recent winners of, well, an ODI series, these are salad days indeed for the England cricket team. Yet for a fan who lived through the 1990s the pleasure of success is slightly tainted by its rather nouveau unfamiliarity. England's lettuce shouldn't be so crisp. It certainly shouldn't be capable of being tossed to any of our bowlers safe in the knowledge they can make the celestial Indian line-up at times look like rabbits.

Apologies for the metaphor milking, but back then milking was exactly what you grew accustomed to watching an England attack whose laboured efforts were further hampered by a management and selection policy that was occasionally merely vindictive rather than incompetent. Mullally, Illot, Jarvis. McCague, Salisbury, Munton. The names roll off the tongue like an ulcer. Until that is you get to the one man that put this listless canon of international fodder to shame: My favourite cricketer, Angus Fraser.
He wasn't the quickest, bounciest, most swing-laden or aesthetic player you could hope to see, but 'Gus was the bowler that I loved to watch pounding in more than any other. More lumbering throttle than whispering death, you could nevertheless keep your Holdings or your Waqars, and besides - if you really must have aestheticism - just look at the beauty of his stats: In 46 injury and selection lottery interrupted Tests he took 177 wickets at 27.32, an average that betters many including that of three of his rather more celebrated successors, Anderson, Hoggard and Flintoff. It might be a struggle to argue he could match the respective guile, shape, and aggression of that trio, but throughout the troubled 1990s Fraser bowled 1668.2 overs for his country, second only behind Phil Tufnell and the most by an England quick by nearly 300. That's 10,010 balls of unflinching, intelligent, mainly on a nagging length unerring, sometimes just "Hold an end up for a sweltering session, Gus", body-aching skill and commitment. Often his reward was to be summarily dropped.

His triumphs against the then still formidable West Indies side on their home soil are well documented, but can never be highlighted enough. Along with Alec Stewart's two tons, he restored pride to a side skittled for 46 in the previous Test by taking a first innings 8 for 75 in 1993/94 and and in doing so bowled England to their and anyone else's first victory in Bridgetown for nearly 60 years. Four years later, after 18 months of snubbing by the selectors, he returned triumphant to the Caribbean and took 11 for 110 in Port of Spain, picking up Lara's wicket in both innings, although this scalp was not uncustomary. Fraser sent the Windies genius on his way
seven times in the 14 Tests they played against each other.
To my mind, though, his most significant triumph was in 1998 during England's home series against South Africa, which, along with Dominic Cork's 1995 tour de force against the Windies, was the one that made me believe I might once again see my national side regarded as more than just a laughing stock. Not only did he and Robert Croft create the template for Onions-infused rearguards with their dogged tenth wicket stand to stop England going 2-0 down at Old Trafford, he also took the second ten wicket match haul of his career at Trent Bridge to set up England's victory. His efforts were as crucial, but nowhere near as oft-recalled, as Atherton's famous facing down of Allan Donald in the subsequent run chase.

Gary Naylor of the superlative
99.94 blog recently wrote here about his love for Glenn McGrath, who he admiringly termed the 'bastard's bastard'. Much attracted by that criteria I was very close to choosing Nasser Hussain over Fraser, but even on that basis I think 'Gus doesn't underperform, such was his curmudgeonly capacity for opinionated and often wry complaint that served him so well in his subsequent career as a journalist. His forthright approach clearly brought respect rather than rancour, however, and in his autobiography Hussain states his deep regret at never having captained Fraser internationally, describing him as "the sort of bloke I desperately wanted in my team, one who would give it his absolute best, would play with passion and commitment and make no excuse or hide behind anyone or anything." Not perhaps a terribly flashy quote, but then 'Gus wasn't a terribly flashy cricketer. He was simply, as was patently obvious to anyone who ever had the pleasure of watching his resolute magnificence, just an absolutely terrific one.


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