The form of England's one-day cricketers in 2006 has been enough to put a tear in the eye of even the most callous fan and yesterday, in an attempt to end a nine-match winless sequence, the coach Duncan Fletcher welcomed his latest recruit to the squad - Graham Onions. Whether Onions, who was playing for Durham at Edgbaston on Sunday when he received an invitation to replace the injured Darren Gough, can do enough to force his way on to a winter tour in the three remaining NatWest Series matches is debatable but, in one-day cricket, he currently has very little competition.
If Onions plays against Pakistan in this afternoon's day-night encounter at the Rose Bowl, he will become the 14th fast bowler England have used in 16 limited-overs games this year. Injury has played a significant part in the alarming turnover but, even so, it is a staggering figure, highlighting just why the team's World Cup plans are in disarray.
Onions has impressed many pundits during his first full season in county cricket, including Michael Atherton, the former England captain. Yet his selection gives another indication of where England's priorities lie, and why they continue to struggle in one-day cricket.
Onions' whippy fast-medium bowling has allowed him to take 51 first-class wickets this season, but in the shortened form of the game Durham have used him sparingly. He played in four Twenty20 games in June and July, when he took four wickets, and claimed his first proper one-day wicket of the season on Sunday. His exclusion from one-day cricket has everything to do with Durham looking after the long-term interests of a promising young fast bowler playing his first full season of county cricket. It should not be viewed as an admission that he cannot play this form of the game. Selecting a one-day player on his first-class form fits in with Fletcher's desire to have the Test and limited-overs teams containing the same individuals.
"What has happened to me this season is unbelievable," a nervous Onions said before his first practice session with England. "If someone told me at the start of the season that I would be representing my country at the end of it, I would have laughed at them. Like all young lads I desperately wanted to play for England, but I did not expect to get here as quickly as I have."
Yesterday was not the first occasion England's cricketers had seen Onions bowl. As part of his preparations for the summer the 23-year-old spent February in India with Durham, bowling at the England batsmen in the nets in Mumbai.
Onions' selection completes another wonderful summer for Durham. Stephen Harmison, Paul Collingwood and Liam Plunkett have all played for England in 2006, and Durham have this year provided the country with more players than any other county. Onions admitted that the sight of Harmison playing for England during last summer's Ashes had inspired him to work hard during the winter.
Onions is a natural sportsman. He was selected to play badminton for England in his early teens but failed to make the final cut. He only began playing cricket seriously at the age of 16 and at 18 he was spotted by Geoff Cook, Durham's director of cricket, playing for Gateshead Fell Cricket Club.
Whether he plays or not will depend on the fitness of England's other bowlers and how they judge the Rose Bowl pitch. Jon Lewis received treatment on a groin niggle at practice yesterday but he will be desperate to further his claims for a regular place in the side. This leaves Onions competing for the final spot with Sajid Mahmood. In an effort to show continuity Mahmood is likely to get the nod but the nature of the pitch here, which helps aggressive seamers, means that Onions has a good chance of making his England debut. England's batsmen are expected to be given one final chance to score heavily. Alastair Cook will get his chance at Trent Bridge on Friday should they fail.
Pakistan are expected to name an unchanged side for the fourth consecutive time. But the Pakistan Cricket Board and Inzamam-ul-Haq, the captain, have been given a final warning by the International Cricket Council not to make any further comments on Darrell Hair, the umpire at the centre of the ball-tampering row, before the hearing at the end of this month.
Pakistan officials have been outspoken since the controversy that led to the fourth Test being forfeited and Inzamam facing charges of ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute. Hair has received the brunt of their criticism, with the PCB saying that he should not stand in another Pakistan match.
Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, said: "The acute international, diplomatic and political sensitivity of this issue has persuaded me not to lay a charge to date. But despite the exceptional circumstances I will not hesitate to lay a charge should further inappropriate public comments be made prior to the hearing."
England (from): A J Strauss (Middlesex, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), I R Bell (Warwickshire), K P Pietersen (Hampshire), J W M Dalrymple (Middlesex), R Clarke (Surrey), C M W Read (Nottinghamshire), S I Mahmood (Lancashire), S C Broad (Leicestershire), J Lewis (Gloucestershire), M H Yardy (Sussex), G Onions (Durham), E C Joyce (Middlesex), A N Cook (Middlesex).
Pakistan (from): Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Mohammad Asif, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul.
Umpires: B Doctrove (WI) and NJ Llong (Eng).Reuse content