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By Paul Newman

13 January 1998

THEY could hardly be more contrasting characters. Yet Angus Fraser, experienced and pragmatic, and Ashley Cowan, wide-eyed and fun-loving, both have an outstanding opportunity over the next few days to earn an unlikely place in England's team for the first Test.

The absence of the injured Darren Gough, a huge blow for English hopes, has opened the door for either the old Middlesex campaigner or the aspiring Essex apprentice to claim the third fast bowler's place alongside Andrew Caddick and Dean Headley. In their different ways they are both relishing the challenge and looking to take the first step towards Sabina Park by being selected to face Jamaica at Montego Bay on Friday.

When Cowan began his rapid journey from the Essex second team to the verge of international cricket, he came up against Fraser on his Lord's baptism against Middlesex. After beating the hardly formidable Fraser bat but failing to take the edge, Cowan, anxious to do what fast bowlers do, stood for a moment to provide a 'stare' at his opponent which led Fraser, a little taken aback at the precocious pup, to offer a few words of advice.

It was then that the voice of Nasser Hussain, fielding at slip, could be heard. ``Don't worry Ash,'' said Hussain in full hearing of his good friend Fraser. ``You're England's future - he's England's past.'' Now at least one of the pair will be England's present.

``Gus has been brilliant out here,'' said Cowan. ``He has been teaching the rest of us what it's all about. He's done more touring than the other fast bowlers put together and he just has the odd word here and there, leading the bowling unit. He's like our colonel - he's too soft to be a sergeant-major.''

Cowan's rise has been dramatic. In 1995, after serious injury problems, he was struggling to earn a place in the Essex second team but two productive seasons of first-class cricket since his inspired promotion, culminating in an impressive NatWest Trophy final appearance against Warwickshire, sealed his place here as the team's emerging fast bowler.

The withdrawal of Gough and the call-up of another inexperienced campaigner in Chris Silverwood, who will probably have to bide his time on this tour, has hastened Cowan's education. Remarkably, at 24, in these well-structured days of under-19 and A tours, he is on his first cricket tour.

``We have done some serious practice now after a frustrating start and I didn't realise how hard it would be,'' said Cowan. ``It's different. I'm not the greatest runner or trainer in the world but it's something you've got to do if you want to play for your country.''

Fraser, who has impressed the England hierarchy with his superb attitude in the early days of the tour, remains the firm favourite for a place at the Sabina Park ground where he began the first of his two successive West Indies tours with victory in 1990. But the balls to be used in this Test series are expected to swing, which may give Cowan, more swing to Fraser's seam, a chance.

Whatever happens, Cowan is delighted to be here. He has already been given an introduction into the ways of the West Indies by receiving the unexpected support of many Jamaicans who, during a visit to Sabina Park, urged him to dismiss Brian Lara for them, even providing a few jocular cash incentives.

Cowan added that there seemed to be a bit of fire in the region after Courtney Walsh lost the captaincy of the West Indies to Brian Lara. ``It was fascinating going to the ground,'' he said. ``Don't ask me about the look of the pitch - I just don't know how to read them - but I went to see the place, soak it in. I don't know if I'm going to be playing there on Jan 29 but I'll be giving it my best shot.''

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:18