Graham Onions: 'I've waited so long for this taste of Test success'
For the Durham bowler the high life has finally arrived, with a starring role in the Ashes and declarations of love from Lily Allen. Stephen Brenkley hears why he's still not satisfied
Thursday 06 August 2009
There comes a time in a sportsman's life when he knows he has made it at last. For Graham Onions that moment may have arrived when he took two Australian wickets with the first two balls of the second day at Edgbaston last week and sent the crowd into expectant raptures.
On the other hand, it may be the revelation that the pop chanteuse and archetypal modern gal Lily Allen has become Onions' biggest fan. "I think," Ms Allen said the other day in a Twitter message, probably after seeing those two wickets, "I'm a little bit in love with a man called Graham Onions."
This should be wonderful news for the suits trying and so far failing to save Test cricket. Not only is she besotted with the Gateshead swinger, who has apparently replaced Andrew Flintoff at the height of her affections, but with cricket in general.
Onions rejected the notion of elevation to sex symbol status yesterday by saying: "Definitely not, no. She has obviously not seen me in real life. But I think Lily Allen is a great singer, it would be a pleasure to meet her. But I've got a girlfriend and I'm happy with her. And no, she doesn't sing."
Ms Allen's devotion, and her eventual desire to be a cricket commentator when the whole pop thing fades, was publicised on The Radcliffe & Maconie Show the other night on Radio 2, itself not always a repository of cricketing information. Onions, his head unturned, has plans only to concentrate on his rapidly influential bowling.
Twice at the start of the day during the third Test in Birmingham, he was asked to bowl by the England captain, Andrew Strauss. Although he could not repeat his feat of three days earlier, it was a measure of the impact Onions has had since being recalled for the second Test at Lord's. He has now taken 18 wickets in his four Test matches.
At the start of the season he was not deemed good enough to be in the selectors' 25-man Performance Squad but such was his form for Durham that he was picked to play in the series against the West Indies. His response to the big time was immediate: 5 for 28 at Lord's in his first Test innings.
"It is great to be shown that faith by your captain, he's got to know that if he throws me the ball I'll do a good job, and at the moment I'd like to think I'm doing a good job," Onions says. He is the country's leading wicket taker in 2009 with 59 at 17.61, seven ahead of Stephen Harmison and 17 more than the bowler in third place. He is a man in the form of his life, making adept use of an uncomplicated, economical action by bowling straight. If he is more effective when the ball swings, he can also find it difficult to come back and has been seen dropping too short occasionally.
"I think it is probably right that I've had good spells and not so good spells," he says. "Of course, you want to do better all the time and you might finish a day's play and think, 'I wish I'd taken 4 for 50 from 20 overs,' but it doesn't always happen like that.
"It takes a bit of time to find your feet. I'm playing in an Ashes series against the best team in the world and I think I need to keep reminding myself of that. I'm my own biggest critic and I push myself too hard sometimes, but that is me and that is the Graham Onions you get. I want to do as well as I possibly can whether it is my fifth Test or my 60th Test."
But there remains that nagging doubt about what he (and Jimmy Anderson) do when the ball stubbornly refuses to swing, as it did at Edgbaston on the last day. Then, England looked an entirely different proposition. Then, as if he did not know before, Onions found out what Test cricket was all about when you are trying to break down the opposition on an unhelpful pitch. More illustrious bowlers have found how tough it can be.
"When the ball swings it is a massive bonus and it is a great thing to have as a bowler," he says. "If you just bowl straight against great players you know they'll score a lot of runs. For us as England cricketers, we need to make sure that ball swings or does something off the straight, or be aggressive. We've got a few plans that we need to bowl to."
As it happens, swing is confidently expected at Headingley and if the fourth Test had been played yesterday it would have gone round corners. If it is unquestionable that he has noticed the difference between county cricket and Test cricket, it is also true that he is one of those who looks as though he will bridge the gap.
"I think they use better bats in Test cricket because when they hit the ball it goes for four more often," Onions says. "I think the wickets are better and I think generally people can play 90mph-plus easier. I'm not saying they find it easy, just easier, so it is a tougher standard and it is something I've wanted to have a taste of for a long time and I'm in that position now."
It is a taste to which he might well get accustomed; if the ball moves in Leeds it could be like nectar and Ms Allen's devotion will grow.
Know your Onions: The rise of Durham's Mr Straight
18 Number of wickets that Onions has taken in his four Test matches, including 5 for 38 on his debut against West Indies at Lord's in May.
0 Runs scored against West Indies in his debut Test innings, a golden duck. His top Test score, from three innings, is 17 not out, during the first innings of the second Ashes Test against Australia.
2 Wickets Onions took in his first two balls on the second day of last week's third Ashes Test – those of Shane Watson and Mike Hussey.
8 Most wickets in an innings, for 101 against Warwickshire, in 2007.
40 Championship wickets this season, behind only Steve Harmison.
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