Ashes squad: Ambitious Graham Onions is crying out for one more crack at big time
Outstanding bowler behind Durham's Championship success this season has seen his England career stall through injury and stiff competition but is hoping for an Ashes swansong
In each generation there is a player for whom the bells of acclaim might have tolled louder. The selectors come calling occasionally but not often enough to construct a significant Test career.
Untimely injury is a key factor but so is the misfortune of being around when there are others slightly more skilful, or bold, or lucky. Graham Onions has a pitch in both those camps.
He is an outstanding performer who has played an instrumental part this season in Durham's capture of the County Championship and was chosen in three of the five squads for the Ashes series without playing a game. Since early 2010 he has appeared in only one Test match and the prospect begins to loom that he might never add to his total of nine caps.
Much will become clearer when England's party for the tour of Australia is named at Lord's tomorrow. If Onions does not feature as one of the probable six fast bowlers then it may be difficult for him to find a way back no matter how many wickets he takes for his county.
He knows that any hope has receded of the substantial international career that could and perhaps should have been his due. But on the outfield, an hour after Durham had secured their third championship pennant last Thursday, he reflected on his continuing ambition.
"I know that if I perform well in county cricket I've always got a chance of playing for England," he said. "If I'm being completely honest I want to play for England. I've still got a dream, I'm 31 now and I still have huge aspirations, I suppose to play one more Test.
"I'm not going to lie, I'm not going to say I'm going to play another 50 Tests but I want to play that one more game. I remember when I had my back injury I said I just want one more game. That happened and of course you want to be greedy, you want to play one more."
Onions became something of a cult figure in his brief Test career to date. Twice on the tour of South Africa in 2009, he had to see out the final over to secure a draw with nine wickets down. No-one should doubt that it demonstrated he had the right stuff.
Early in 2010, on a tour of Bangladesh, he suffered what seemed a back strain. The brutal extent of it only became clear as the weeks went by and he missed the the 2010 season. As he has related, they were dark days when he feared he might not play again, never mind for England. Onions came through and in the last three seasons, with one match remaining in 2013, he has taken 180 Championship wickets at 19.2 runs each. No other bowler in Division One has a comparable record.
Onions has plied his trade in the era of other splendid operators – Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan. The selectors have found it impossible to erase him from their thoughts but the only time he has taken the field again was when they were temporarily rotating bowlers against West Indies last year. He took 4 for 88 with characteristic, metronomic accuracy and was best in show.
Geoff Cook, who has been with Durham since they entered the Championship in 1992, discovered Onions at Gateshead Fell. His instincts, as so often, were correct and he has witnessed Onions become a masterful bowler.
"If I was in the right place at the right time, 21 years ago, to come to Durham, Graham is in the right place at the wrong time," said Cook.
"England seem to have some quality bowlers. World cricket arguably isn't of a high standard and England are winning Test matches because of it.
"The selectors are very consistent in their selection, consistent in getting Graham in their top four or five bowlers and he's unlucky that he's consistently fourth or fifth. He comes back to Durham disappointed, not disillusioned, but determined to roll his sleeves up and produce the goods for us."
It would be a mistake to suppose that Onions has prospered only because of the wickets at the Emirates ICG, invariably friendly to seamers but not the enemy of batsmen.
In six matches at Chester-le-Street this season, Onions has 38 wickets at 16.5, in five matches away he has 28 at 19.29, still superior to all the other seamers in Division One. He might be a happier bunny at the Emirates but he is not simply a horse for a course.
"I am convinced that if I do get an opportunity, if I do get into that side then I've got a chance of staying in there," he said. "That's what keeps driving me to get out of bed in the morning, for days like these and to play for England.
"I still feel as though I've got a part to play, I still feel I could force my way into that side. But it's not easy and as we know from the last few years, I've not played a great deal of cricket for England. But county cricket is good for me, I enjoy it, I enjoy getting into rhythm, I enjoy bowling lots of overs. The most important thing for me is I enjoy playing for this club and this team.
"It's just a case of keeping on working as hard as I possibly can and getting better each season. I am convinced that eventually I will get into that side." Tomorrow, he will know if there is still a chance.
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