England's carefully laid plans for Ashes campaigns usually end up on a treatment table in some hospital room or other. But they acted decisively and with foresight yesterday in an attempt to ensure that Graham Onions, the Durham fast bowler, is with the squad in Australia next winter.
Onions, who last played in South Africa in January, will be out of the game for up to another three months and seems certain to miss the whole international summer. The back injury which eventually caused him to leave the subsequent Bangladesh tour without playing a game has finally been diagnosed as a bone stress reaction.
This was revealed by a scan after Onions saw a spinal specialist earlier this week. It is hoped that it will be cured by rest and rehabilitation over the next 12 weeks. Once the extent of the damage was revealed, Onions yesterday had surgery on bone cartilage in his left knee, which might otherwise have been delayed. This will take a similar time to recover.
Onions said: "I am naturally incredibly disappointed to miss the bulk of the domestic season and am still hopeful that with rest I can be back on the field nearer to the end of the summer.
"The ECB medical team has been very supportive and all I can do is be patient, work hard on my rehabilitation programme and focus on my No 1 goal which is to be fully fit and available for selection for the Ashes tour to Australia."
England would dearly like Onions to be part of their attempt to retain the Ashes because he took to Test cricket so naturally after being surprisingly selected last summer. In tending to his needs now they give him slightly more than an outside chance, although the failure of his back to respond to treatment so far is worrying.
It is highly improbable that Onions will be sufficiently match-honed to play any part in the Test series against Pakistan, the fourth and final Test of which starts on 26 August. But if all goes according to plan he could play in Durham's last four Championship matches.
Onions made a dramatic entry into Test cricket last summer when he took five wickets in 27 balls against the West Indies at Lord's. He went on to play in three of the five Ashes Tests, being always quietly impressive, occasionally incisive, and was unlucky to be overlooked for the decisive match at The Oval.
He was again dropped for the last Test of the series in South Africa after taking only eight wickets in the first three. Many sound judges, some of them former bowlers, thought he was again unlucky because Onions has the timeless virtue of bowling straight, usually on or narrowly outside off stump, from close to the stumps, with just enough movement to worry opponents. His eight Tests have yielded 28 wickets.
England are not exactly short of fast-bowling options at present however Onions has qualities of yore which might wear down Australians on their own pitches.