For England pacemen life has improved immeasurably since Angus Fraser ran in, according to one observer “looking like he’d caught his braces on the sightscreen”.
Now a selector and Middlesex’s head honcho, the former county and Test stalwart always protested his hangdog expression made him look more tired than he actually was and that, in any case, he was entitled to make bowling look like bloody hard work because it actually was bloody hard work.
And the workload Gus was forced to take on during the corresponding fortnight in 1995 is worth reflecting on, as it reinforces the point that, by comparison, England’s front-liners James Anderson and Stuart Broad have never had it so good.
The period in question began with the second Test against West Indies at Lord’s, in which Fraser took 5-56 in the first innings as England levelled the series 1-1. So far, so good. The night the match ended in victory by 72 runs, after Fraser had sent down 25 further overs to add to the 33 he had bowled first time round, he had to drive five and a half hours to St Austell in order to play for his county against Cornwall in the first round of the NatWest Trophy the following morning, tough enough even if he’d managed a wink of sleep in his sauna-hot hotel room on a rock hard mattress over which his 6ft 4in frame spilled by a foot.
Two days and the second leg of a 550-mile round trip later, he was back at Lord’s for the start of a four-day Championship match, against Surrey, and did enough in helping his side win in three days to enjoy a well-earned day off, except that the club decided to include him in their Sunday League match instead, before releasing him to drive to Birmingham to meet up with the England team for the third Test.
When he dragged himself to the dressing room couch, physio Dave Roberts asked him which bit needed attention and Gus replied: “Start at the bottom, work your way up to the top and unless you hear from me, don’t stop.”
The introduction of ECB central contracts means such madness is a thing of the past, the resulting better preparation and scientific approach to physical care (ice baths etc.) explaining why Anderson (94 caps) and Broad (69) have endured to play just three fewer Tests between them than the combined career total of the big three of their era, Fraser (46), Andy Caddick (62) and Darren Gough (58), with power to add.
Yet here we are again, after a back-to-back two-Test series against Sri Lanka and preparing for a five-Test series against India to be played over six weeks (the first three back-to-back-to-back) with concern enough over the state of England’s new ball attack for coach Peter Moores to concede they may have to be rested at some point. The last time an England coach tried that, Andy Flower omitting both Anderson and Broad from the final Test against West Indies in 2012, Jimmy went off on one, arguing that, as cricketer’s careers were at the whim of the fates, form and fortune, no one was going to push him out the door without a fight.
Flower reasoned at the time: “In the past we tended to play the fast bowlers until they were either bowling so poorly we had to leave them out or they break down. The days of us playing our players until they either wear down signif- icantly or snap physically or mentally are over.”
It is interesting to speculate whether, had Flower been as good as those sentiments at the end of last summer’s Ashes, Jonathan Trott may have been spared what followed Down Under, as there are those who suggest his decline may have been hastened by him playing in the ODI series, when he might have been better off taking a break.
At present, while Moores stresses both Anderson, who finished the second Test at Headingley with a “niggle” to his knee and Broad, who is continuing to manage tendinitis in his right knee before decid- ing whether to go under the knife at the end of the season, will be fully fit for the first Test against India, starting at Trent Bridge a week on Wednesday.
But Anderson’s response to the failure of his extraordinary effort to block out for the draw at Leeds, choking back the tears when receiving the England player of the series award from former skipper Mike Atherton is surely a warning sign, for, to the naked eye, it looked as much a symptom of emotional and psychological exhaustion as physical fatigue. England are not helped by the current set-up of the side, nor with skipper Alastair Cook seemingly reluctant to invest too many overs in the spin of Moeen Ali.
As Atherton wrote in The Times afterwards, in the absence of a balanced attack and on drier English Test pitches, “the seam bowlers are being flogged into the ground, so that both James Anderson and Stuart Broad appeared out on their feet at times… asked to bowl long spells and do the donkey work.” Clearly, it was frustration over the above as much as disappointment at scooping the penultimate ball of the match into the hands of Rangana Herath that brought Anderson to breaking point.
The hunger still burns within him, as it does Broad, and, after having taken 12 wickets against Sri Lanka, the Burnley Express needs just 29 more to overhaul Ian Botham as England’s highest Test wicket- taker and six more caps to become the first specialist bowler to play 100 Tests for them.
Both would be extraordinary achievements, placing him among the all-time greats of English cricket. The challenge facing Moores, Cook and England’s selectors is to find some way to ensure he remains on his feet long enough to pull them off.