Out to give Aussies a stuffing but Onions slips down pecking order

He's been in great form but paceman knows only a sizzling spell for Lions will earn him Ashes slot

By Richard Rae
Monday 16 December 2013 04:40

Bowling fitness, Ottis Gibson calls it. "I see people lifting big weights in the gym, but ask them to bowl two weeks in a row and they break down," the big Bajan, now England's bowling coach, said at the end of his final season with Durham.

"The only way to be in the right frame of mind and reach the right level of fitness to bowl long spells is by bowling. Repetition, repetition, repetition. It's the only way to be confident about hitting the right lines, or varying your pace."

Seated at home in Durham with his feet up, Graham Onions smiles. On that basis, Gibson, a man from whom Onions admits he learned a huge amount during his time at The Riverside, will surely approve of a recent schedule which has seen Onions take part in three County Championship matches in the space of 15 days.

All were won, with Onions bowling a total of 104.3 overs and taking 25 wickets at 11 apiece. Throw in the 10 he took in the two Tests against West Indies and he is on 50 for the season. With the Aussies to come.

"Hopefully," points out Onions, with a diffidence that would be suspect if it wasn't so obviously genuine. "It would be great, but I know my place in the team isn't cemented. [Ryan] Sidebottom is fit again, [Andrew] Flintoff is back, they might want to play two spinners in Cardiff, so..."

He shrugs, smiles again. Despite his superb start to the season, the odds are that only another big return, for the England Lions against Australia this week, will see Onions force his way into the starting line-up for the First Test.

Even so, it is a position the 26-year-old readily admits he would have happily settled for late last year, when after an injury-disrupted season – he took only 18 first-class wickets – he was not selected for the Lions tour. He wasn't even sure he could get back into the Durham team, after they had effectively won the Championship without him.

Onions is wry. "I'm a Durham lad and I'm very proud and passionate about playing here and representing the area as a whole, but cricket is my living and you couldn't say the team struggled without me.

"The likes of Callum Thorp and Mitchell Claydon had both done brilliantly, and as I was in the last year of my contract I did speak to a few counties." He also talked to his family, and to Durham's coach Geoff Cook and chief executive Dave Harker. Cook gently pointed out that without form and fitness, no county would guarantee him a start.

"In the end I thought to myself, 'Look, I'm not going to sign a one-year contract and go through the same rigmarole again at the end of this season.' So I signed a three-year deal and got down to work. Now it's looking like the best decision I ever made."

He is aware of the irony that now he's in the form of his life, Durham might have to do without him. "It does seem tough, but I've chipped in over the last few games and besides, it's the sort of place where they're pleased to have players involved in the international set-up.

"The other thing is they know it's a reward for a lot of hard work. I think as a person, through family and everything, I've been brought up to take absolutely nothing for granted. I wouldn't class myself as the most naturally gifted cricketer, or at anything I do really, but one thing I do is give absolutely everything every time I go out on that field.

"Knowing I've played two Tests for England is great, and I've still got to pinch myself, but it is just a beginning and I know I have to work even harder and keep on improving."

Much of the pleasure Onions has taken in his breakthrough is down to the reward he feels it represents for his family.

"My mam and dad, Maureen and Richard, my sister Christine, my girlfriend Emma – just to see the smiles on their faces after I took those five wickets against West Indies at Lord's, that meant so much. All those times mam and dad took me to nets, or badminton training [Onions was a county standard player], or Emma has put up with me being moody because things weren't going right, it's so good to know I'm giving them something back.

"Mind you, I think my mam supports Durham as much as she supports me. Especially the younger lads. If Ben Harmison or Mark Stoneman gets a hundred, she'll be there to give them a hug."

Whether, say, Kevin Pietersen would appreciate a hug from Mrs Onions is hard to say. But it would be good to see her in the crowd, following her son's fortunes in the biggest series of them all.

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