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'I spent 95% of my career bowling the same ball'

Former England seamer Angus Fraser talks about his workmanlike bowling, playing second fiddle, his stop-start career, and England in the '90s

Interview by Scott Oliver |

"As you get older, you don't bowl better balls than you used to bowl when you were 18. You just have fewer bad days" © Getty Images

It's strange - you look back at some of your best performances and it seems each time something else has happened that the games are remembered for: you get an eight-for in Barbados and Stewie gets a hundred in each innings. A six-for in dry, hot, dusty conditions in Melbourne and Bruce Reid takes 13 in the match. An eight-for in Trinidad and Carl Hooper plays beautifully and we lose. Man of the Match at Trent Bridge, and everyone remembers Allan Donald bowling to Michael Atherton.

My England debut was a proud moment, an ambition fulfilled. I remember it being a hot, sweaty day at Edgbaston, with thunderstorms around. You're too bloody hot, but bowling in your sweater because you didn't want to take it off.

As you get older, you don't bowl better balls than you used to bowl when you were 18. You just have fewer bad days. You always have good days. If you didn't have good days, you wouldn't be in the professional environment.

I spent 95% of my career bowling the same ball, which was to hit a good length on off stump. If it does something, great; if it doesn't, so what? If you bowl a ball at 80 to 85mph on a good length on off stump and it's moving away, then it doesn't matter whether you're Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar or Don Bradman - you're going to struggle to play it.

The Old Trafford rearguard was one of those days when you go to the ground in the morning and think, "I might have something to do here." We were one or two down overnight and it was a flat pitch, but wickets fell steadily and you think you might be needed. You try to speak and there's no spit in your mouth because of your nerves. I was sat there in my pads on the balcony next to Bumble [David Lloyd], the coach, and I was having to calm him down.

My brother was certainly a better athlete than me, that's for sure. He was the Fraser that was going to make it when we were young: fast bowler, could bat, hit the ball well, good athlete in the field, strong arm - he held the Middlesex record for throwing a cricket ball for a number of years.

I beat the bat a couple of times when Lara was in the 340s. He had a swish at me. I told him not to throw it away. There was a point when a part of you hoped he'd do it. You perhaps don't want it on your CV, but you also want to be part of the history of the game.

The big problem was getting the right diagnosis. Hip injuries weren't that common. So I had an operation, but it didn't respond. There are times when you wonder whether you'll play again.

I was selected for the Ashes squad at Lord's in 1989, but was left out. I always remember being given a couple of bags of kit by Micky Stewart, the coach, and trying it on to see if it would fit me, then leaving it in the bag and not being able to wear it until I'd actually played for England. So I trained in my Middlesex stuff.

When people talk about hard days, I say, "Well, have you ever bowled till lunchtime on day three?" I've done that two or three times in my career. That's a couple of hard day's bloody work, I can tell you.

"I couldn't be arsed keeping these bat manufacturers happy, so I started to use blank bats and would put messages on the back - 'G'day, Richie' and stuff like that for the stump camera"

I think a longer run-up takes less out of you. A shorter run-up is more explosive. You've got to sprint to the crease and maybe throw yourself harder at it. I also like the fact that with a longer run-up you've got time to think where you're at. With a shorter run-up, sometimes you're letting go of the ball before you know what you're doing.

You get to the pinnacle, playing international cricket, and do quite well at it, and the next thing you know, you're injured.

I took eight wickets in my comeback Test and, yes, we'd lost the Ashes, but having had the thick end of two and a half years out of the game, it was just a joy to produce something. Mark Waugh, the first wicket back after the injury, is probably the one that gives me more satisfaction than any. It was symbolic of all the hard work being worthwhile, all the hours that you spend with the physios, training. And it was a good ball: bounced a little bit and he gloved it through to the keeper.

I made my debut in my first year [1984] on the staff, in Swansea, when there was a bit of an injury crisis. I got a wicket in my third or fourth over, but ended up with 1 for 120. After that, I was in and out of the side a bit, then the year I was looked on to break through I ended up with a stress fracture in my back because I overdid it at pre-season training.

It was a dressing room full of strong characters: Edmonds, Emburey, Gatting, Barlow, Downton.

Why didn't my brother make it? It's hard to say. First, it's not that easy. It's a very competitive environment. To say he had the yips might be overdoing it, but he lost real confidence in his bowling. We get on very well, and it's not as though we've been competing against each other, but maybe me coming through had an adverse effect on him in some ways.

I never got much money for using batting gear. Let's say you're offered £2000. The agent takes 20%, so it comes down to £1600. The taxman takes 40%, so it's down to £800. Then they say, "Do this, do that." I just thought, "I can't be arsed with this", keeping these bat manufacturers happy, so I started to use blank bats and would put messages on the back - "G'day, Richie" and stuff like that for the stump camera.

Ian Botham fielding at second slip when you run in to bowl on your Test debut was something you're very proud of. I remember him coming up to me after a couple of overs and saying, "I think I'm going to take quite a few catches off you here." He never took one.

Gatt created an environment where people were encouraged to say what they thought. Grudges weren't held. You got it out of the system. He weighed it up. He maybe did something, he maybe didn't do something. But his style of management was that he'd let you know what he was thinking. It wasn't softly, softly.

"From having the best year of your career to suddenly being on the outside, it was quite hard to take. Now the boot's on the other foot" © Sarah Williams

We got into wine on my first Ashes tour. Me and Athers used to go out and you've suddenly got a bit of money in your pocket, you get expenses, and you go to nice restaurants and start tinkering around with wine. Then it was big Aussie reds and strong Chardonnays. Now I quite like my Pinot Noirs and my Burgundies.

The 46 all out was a weird experience. It was a pretty close game, then all of a sudden, Curtly Ambrose just bowled as he can bowl. Breathtaking. Stumps flying everywhere. He was just too much. Great bowlers produce performances like that. We couldn't cope with it.

It's not just a style of bowling. It's a mentality that produces a style of bowling. Ambrose, Glenn McGrath and myself had the same mentality. You speak an identical language. All right, they're both better than me at what they did but you had the same outlook, you were trying to do the same things.

You look at some one-day cricket nowadays and think: actually bowlers haven't got much bloody chance at all. Only four fielders outside the ring is ridiculous.

I'd had a pretty good year before going to Australia in 1998-99. I'd taken 50-odd wickets, but I quickly became a support bowler and then out of the team. It all happened very quickly. From having the best year of your career to suddenly being on the outside, it was quite hard to take. It was frustrating at the time, but that's the way it goes. Now the boot's on the other foot and I'm the one potentially making those decisions.

The worst I think I ever bowled in my career was when Middlesex lost to Herefordshire in the NatWest Trophy. I'd spent the previous day coaching at a school in Ludlow, and I don't know whether I got sunstroke or something, but I was ill that night. We got quite a big score - 270-odd, and we should have got more - but I just couldn't seem to pitch the ball. I don't know whether it was the run-ups or what, but I just seemed to keep jackknifing at the crease and bowled three or four accidental beamers. It was ridiculous. Phil Tufnell bowled his ten overs for 15 and everyone else bowled absolute rubbish, especially me. A pretty humiliating day.

The perception that I'd lost my nip was something I constantly battled with after my hip operation.

The wicket column is a difficult one to control. It's in the lap of the gods. Sometimes they'll play and miss at you all afternoon, you won't get any decisions going your way, the batsmen will play well - there are things you can't control. But you can certainly control the runs column to a greater extent. It's about being consistently good and trusting the game. Bowlers go searching for wickets. Therefore you're fast-forwarding everything you're trying to do in a shorter period of time. That's not particularly healthy and it's not particularly wise. What you want is to be bowling well, and know you're bowling well, and to trust the game.

I enjoyed bowling. Always. All right, some days you don't have any luck, but the pleasure you get from bowling a ball on a good length that nips away and beats the edge, or takes the edge and gets caught at slip, was very satisfying. It's something you miss: being out there in that competitive environment, trying to get the better of a batsman.

"When I knew I was going to take the job at the Independent, I got a taxi back to Lord's and sat in my car and cried, then went up the dressing room, sat in my position and had another cry"

I'm a strong Liverpool supporter. When I was young I went to see them quite a lot: FA Cup finals against Everton, Milk Cup finals against Manchester United and Tottenham, a European Cup game when they beat Juventus 2-1.

When I knew I was going to take the job at the Independent, I got a taxi back to Lord's and sat in my car and cried, then went up the dressing room, sat in my position and had another cry, because I knew that was it.

Graham Gooch had a hugely positive influence on my England career. He became captain and took me and one or two others under his wing. To see the way he trained, the devotion he had for his cricket, had a huge impact on me.

Bowling all day at [Mark] Taylor and [Geoff] Marsh was pretty heartbreaking. Flogging yourself for 90 overs and no one's got anything to show for it… I actually think I bowled bloody well in that Test match: 50 overs, 2 for 105, I think.

Hicky [Graeme Hick] was a very popular player, a really nice man. I'd sort of shared his struggles, really. You suddenly play really well and are in line to get an Ashes hundred and you think this fellow deserves this. I don't think the right decision was made. It killed that moment. We'd been getting our backside kicked around Australia and you're suddenly on top in a match and a popular player is on the brink of achieving something special… I understand the reasons for taking the decision, but within the team you've also got to look at the individual players' development. It affected us as a team and undoubtedly affected Hick's career to some extent.

I was lucky to play when I did. You pitted your wits against some great cricketers, but none better than Lara. There were lots of days when he drove you to distraction - if the mood was right, he could hit you pretty much where he wanted, usually wherever you had just moved a fielder from - but to be out there trying to get the better of him was a real privilege.

I was originally left out of the 1994-95 Ashes tour. I only found out by watching Sky. I had a bit of a falling-out with Ray Illingworth. He had his views, and obviously felt that there were better bowlers than myself. Again, that was quite hard to take because your record suggested there wasn't. But that's his job and I suppose the hip injury and the non-selection probably knocked 25 Tests off my career. It would've been nice to take another 100 Test wickets: 280 wickets at an average of 27 would possibly have been a truer reflection, although I was still very proud of what I achieved.

I suppose it's a trait of a sportsman that you never think you're not good enough. Even though you face the reality that you're not as competitive as you were, that you can't force the issue like you previously could, there's some inner belief that you could still do a job out there. There's a period when you think, "Hang on, I could bowl better than he's bowling now". In reality, you probably can't.

Scott Oliver tweets here

 

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  • POSTED BY Nigel on | September 19, 2014, 23:15 GMT

    One of my favourite cricketers. Sadly under-used. I agree that England always seemed a better side when Fraser was included. Wish we had him now, although he would have some work to do on his batting and fielding Although the England team often struggled in the 1990s I have a real fondness for cricket of that era. which I think it comes from introducing my son to the game then. I too would look forward to reading a history of those England Test teams. Someone please write one! Also agree Angus was really good on Test Match Special.

  • POSTED BY Master on | September 19, 2014, 20:45 GMT

    Fine bowler. Not sure I get 280@27 he wasnt dropped that often Illy notwithstanding! Just a shame Steve Finn is s world class fast bowler trapped in Angus Fraserd run up and delivery stride...you could say the same about Richard Johnson too. Fine bowler, questionable bowling coach...

  • POSTED BY Master on | September 19, 2014, 19:45 GMT

    I played a club match in the early90s against Angus and Alistair opening the bowling. All the batters tried to get to Angus end. He was Englands best bowler at the time. But Alistiar was raaapid. A decent hard hitting batsman down the ground. One year he was injured and couldnt bowl. So he ran me out with a flat 70 yard throw...No doubt which brother had all the talent which makes Angus achievements all the more laudable.

  • POSTED BY Edwin on | September 19, 2014, 13:37 GMT

    @Sir Francis - In regards to Fraser´s stats, worth remembering that the standard of Test cricket batsmen in the 90´s was far higher than it is today...

  • POSTED BY Edwin on | September 19, 2014, 13:35 GMT

    Hugely underated, and should have been the mainstay of the England team in the 90´s. You look back now at the constant dropping/reselection of players like Fraser, Smith, Hick, Ramprakash etc - those players all should have had far longer Test careers. Fraser also omits the lack of central contracts in those days - in his autobiography Atherton commented on how Fraser would turn up on the morning of a Test having driven 100´s of miles the night before from a 4 day Championship game having bowled the best part of 100 overs...no wonder he had so many injuries.

  • POSTED BY sam on | September 18, 2014, 14:59 GMT

    A poor mans Mcgrath.Was a time when Eng had 1 of its strongest attack . Definitely have not had 1 as good since '05 excepted.Oh and the Mcgrath comparison. A stockier version!-:)

  • POSTED BY SRIVATSAN on | September 18, 2014, 14:52 GMT

    Gus Fraser, morose, sad, forlorn. Always running in hard for the next ball. Loved him. Should have certainly got more than the 180 odd test wickets he has to his name.

  • POSTED BY Nitin on | September 18, 2014, 12:09 GMT

    I feel he is much better than most of the present English bowlers. Nice to see his honesty and felt he was a true sportsman.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | September 18, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    There's a full story yet to be told about England from 1989-99 which you get just snippets from in interviews such as this. The inconsistency of selection, the failures of managers like Keith Fletcher, Ray Illingworth and David Lloyd, the careers that suddenly ended, like Fraser, Steve Watkin and Robin Smith, the England teams that seemed strong on paper but collapsed on the pitch. Was it the last act of a tradition of selectorial meddling before the Duncan Fletcher/David Graveney era, was it that the England players were rubbish? What we need is a sage cricket writer to pen the definitive history of England in the 1990s.

  • POSTED BY Vivek on | September 18, 2014, 7:09 GMT

    he's right when he says he bowled the same ball 95% in his career, right on the money - as they say; I'd say he was an underrated bowler and his injuries also played a big part in him not playing regularly...

    a note to the editor(s): please try to arrange the Gleanings section in chronological order; it'd enhance the reading experience

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | September 18, 2014, 7:03 GMT

    One of my favourite England cricketers of the period I've seen (89+) We always looked a better side with Fraser playing than we did when he didn't. Was so pleased when he made that Test comeback in 93. It's a shame Illy never saw his value, still don't get how he got left out of that 94/5 tour to Aus. Look at the cards: we got round the park at the Gabba & MCG. Fraser gets called up and we're well in the game at the SCG and won at Adelaide. Then he gets dumped again a year later.... which looked permanent till Graveney (sensibly) had him recalled for that 98WI tour - IIRC Gus was in the Sky studio commenting on the team selection when his name was read out! Fab series against the WI and SA followed before that lst Aussie tour he talked about.

    We've had lots of great bowlers in the last 10-15 years but for my money a fit & firing Fraser would always be the first name on my team sheet.

    Should do some more summarising for the radio too, he was great at that!

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | September 18, 2014, 7:03 GMT

    Born in late 80s I grew up watching cricket in late 90s. I don't know many of the 80s cricketers apart from those who are commentating now. So it's always nice to know a player from an earlier era, especially a bowler. Thanks for the interview Mr Fraser.

  • POSTED BY Francis on | September 18, 2014, 6:58 GMT

    England, more than most, shoot themselves in the foot. Fraser is one of those players you pick and never even think of leaving out. An average of 27 and S/R of 61. What team ever would leave someone out like that? That's better than Anderson & Broad to start with (though both have a slightly better S/R)

  • POSTED BY Aruhn on | September 18, 2014, 5:23 GMT

    lovely thinking bowler, and yes, in the mould of McGrath & Ambrose..