No tears from overlooked Onions
9:40am Saturday 16th June 2007
With England's Durham duo Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood hopeful of making their mark at some point in the rain-affected Test at their home Riverside ground, fellow county man Graham Onions could be forgiven for casting envious glances from Hampshire, where he is spearheading the Durham bowling attack in the county championship match at the Rose Bowl. Cricket writer TIM WELLOCK spoke to the 24-year-old Gateshead-born seamer.
AFTER Graham Onions bagged eight for 101, the second best figures in Durham's first-class history, at Edgbaston last month there seemed every chance he would join Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett in the England squad.
Matthew Hoggard's injury had created a vacancy and following a successful England A tour in the winter Onions was in the frame.
Ryan Sidebottom got the nod instead, but with Harmison and Plunkett struggling the possibility arose that Onions might replace one of them for the Riverside Test, especially after following his Edgbaston heroics with a second-innings haul of five for 53 in Durham's home win against Yorkshire. Four of those victims were clean bowled.
Unfortunately he was totally out of luck in the first innings of last week's match against Lancashire, and when England selector Geoff Miller turned up to watch him and Jimmy Anderson on the third day both seemed to suffer a sudden bout of stage fright.
Onions emerged wicketless from the match, but as he had bowled poorly at home to Kent prior to the Edgbaston game Durham knew that it was all part of the roller-coaster development of an undoubted talent.
Usually described as a headline writer's dream, the punning potential takes on eye-watering proportions through Onions' fruitful alliance with wicketkeeper Phil Mustard .
They have a good rapport and Onions recently described Mustard as the funniest member of the Durham side, although he added: "He's not actually funny, it's just that everybody laughs at him."
In the eight-wicket haul at Edgbaston there were five instances of "caught Mustard bowled Onions" and they are clearly helping to turn Durham into hot dogs.
Born in Gateshead, 24-year-old Onions is a wiry 6ft 2in and generally bowls at around 85mph. Having played badminton for England at under-17 level, he was a relatively late developer on the cricket scene but joined the Durham Academy in 2001 and made his first-class debut three years later.
A good season last year took him to Bangladesh with England A, but he made a disappointing start this summer.
Once Harmison and Plunkett had gone off to the first Test, however, Onions emerged spectacularly from their shadow.
In the first three championship games Harmison took 24 wickets at 14.37, while Onions was generally out of luck in picking up seven at 43.3.
In the next two games Onions had 14 at 18.0 and he said: "It's very hard when people are comparing you with Steve Harmison. With him and Liam in the team I was not getting the amount of overs I like to bowl.
"I did well in Bangladesh with England A, when the captain just kept throwing the ball to me and I was thriving on that.
"I wanted to prove I had learnt a lot and I was maybe trying a bit too hard, which makes you tense up."
The only better first-class figures for Durham than Onions' eight for 101 were Melvyn Betts' nine for 64 at Northampton in 1997.
Betts was another local lad who achieved England A status before slipping backwards when he moved to Warwickshire then Middlesex before injury forced him to retire at the end of last season.
Another Durham product, Ian Hunter, is now with Derbyshire, while Mark Turner has gone to Somerset and Danny Evans to Middlesex because they couldn't see enough opportunities at home.
Onions was in a similar position two years ago, when in four championship appearances he took four wickets for 309 runs. In his last two games his figures were none for 157 in 30 overs.
Durham worked on making his action stronger the following winter, when he also benefited from a spell at the World Academy in Bombay.
The transformation at the start of last season was astonishing as among the batsmen clean bowled by Onions in the early games were Rob Key, Mark Chilton, Ed Smith and Ben Hutton.
Although he faded towards the end of the season, he finished with 50 championship wickets at 32.16 and was selected for the England Academy squad in Australia.
He was back home for Christmas, then went to Dennis Lillee's academy in Chennai for two weeks before the five-week England A trip to Bangladesh.
"This is the first time I've played through the winter and I wouldn't have changed it for the world," he said.
"I got to know Peter Moores, who is a great guy to know and to work with, and I proved to myself that I could do well bowling on the flat pitches in Bangladesh.
"We worked on straightening my run-up and building in some running technique so that instead of taking long strides I have more control coming into the crease. It means I'm not striving any more - the pace comes naturally. I started the season feeling strong and I'm still feeling good."
Onions has also worked on his batting and has shown potential to move up from his usual spot at No 10, making a championship best 41 at Headingley this season.
He admits he needs to improve his bowling in the middle overs of an innings, having taken all his eight wickets at Edgbaston with the new ball. He had a spell of three for 12 at the start of the innings and five for 24 with the second new ball.
"I'm not the finished article but I'll keep working hard and will always give 100 per cent," he said.
"I just want to keep taking wickets and pushing my England claims."