Rejuvenated Onions hails medics for keeping him off the dole

Graham Onions will be in an England team again today. The Lions, who play the Sri Lankans at Derby, are not the team to which he truly aspires but are much, much more than he dreamt of during a prolonged absence from the game that threatened to be terminal.

"The last 16 months for me as a professional cricketer haven't been ideal," he said yesterday. "It has been tough and there have been times when I've used the England team psychologist Mark Bowden to keep me on the right track.

"I thought I might have to go on the dole. Through those times you have to stay strong and have your family around you and I started to look at college courses that I might do. I started doing my level three coaching course because I thought realistically I might not play again."

Onions would have hoped to have a big part in England's last year. He was part of the 2009 Ashes-winning side and continued to impress with his metronomic accuracy on the South African tour that followed. But then a niggling pain emerged. When he left England's tour of Bangladesh in February 2010 he and the medical team were highly optimistic that he would soon be fit. But what he thought was a back spasm eventually needed career-saving surgery and the insertion of a titanium screw.

Onions returned for Durham in their second Championship match of the season against Yorkshire and took five for 53. If the ECB have been criticised in the past for their handling of players, Onions has only praise. Both the team coach, Andy Flower, and the captain, Andrew Strauss, rang him regularly to check on his progress and Bowden, the psychologist, was always on hand.

"He has been a good friend to talk to at any time day or night," said Onions. "He said his phone would always be on for me and without him to keep me level headed and upbeat it might have taken nine instead of seven months since the operation."

The Lions can be expected to give a good account of themselves but they have picked only one specialist opening batsman, James Adams. It is likely that James Taylor, who bats at four for Leicestershire, will share the openers' duties.

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