Onions relishing England return
Graham Onions was there at the start of England’s assault on the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings - and now he wants a piece of the action as an official world-beater.
The 29-year-old is in the frame again as England prepare for their first Test since being presented with the ICC’s silver mace as the top-ranked Test team.
Onions, whose international career was interrupted almost two years ago and then put in doubt by a back injury and subsequent surgery, was added to England’s squad to face Pakistan in three Tests in the United Arab Emirates after Tim Bresnan had to fly home with post-operative elbow pain.
The Durham seamer has great empathy with Bresnan, or any other injury victim, after his own experiences which left him wondering whether he would ever have a chance to play for his country or even his county again.
He will therefore count his blessings that the long road back to full fitness has led him at last into the reckoning for a recall and the chance to add to his eight Test caps.
“Being here and spending another three weeks out here with the best coaches and the best players is something in 2009 I didn’t really think I would do,” he said.
“To be standing here is something really special for me.”
Onions comes into the equation to face a Pakistan Cricket Board XI tomorrow in the final warm-up match before the first Test in a week’s time.
The selectors will need updates on the fitness of Graeme Swann - set for a scan today on a sore thigh - and Onions’ fellow pace hopeful Chris Tremlett, who has an eye infection, before they can name their line-up for the three-day fixture.
Should Onions get the call, it will be an emotional culmination of his efforts to battle back to fitness. But he said: “I’m going to have to put that to the back of my mind a little bit, because I want to perform and do well.
“It certainly makes you appreciate what you’ve got and how lucky you are. I wouldn’t say when I was playing I took it for granted. But you turn up and have the ball in your hand - and then all of a sudden, as happened to me in Bangladesh (in 2010), you get injured.
“That’s quite hard to take. But I’m here now and I want to make a difference as part of this team. They weren’t number one when I was playing. I want to be part of that side.”
Onions last played for England in the new year Test at Cape Town just over two years ago, in which he blocked out the final over to salvage a last-ditch draw - just as he had in the first match of that series at Centurion.
He knows all too well how such thrills can be spirited away by injury, though, and added: “I feel really bad for Tim.
“He has been an integral part of England’s side for the last year or two. I know exactly how he feels to be coming home from a tour.”
Onions originally accompanied England here as cover because of injury niggles for Bresnan and others.
“I did want to be part of the squad, to challenge myself and prove a point to (team director) Andy Flower and (captain) Andy Strauss that I’m good enough to be here and stay,” he said.
“Unfortunately for Tim, a door opens for me really. I certainly see Tim as a big loss. He has played a massive part in England gaining number one status.”
If and when Onions is asked to bowl for his country again, he admits there will be a moment for a deep breath to remember all those months of anxiety about whether he might play again.
“I might think of it then - when I have got my whites on, my England shirt on,” he continued.
“It is special when you play for England. It is the best feeling I have ever had when I have played.
“To have taken that away was very, very disappointing. It was a tough time in my career, probably the toughest.
“You’re keeping your fingers crossed; you’re doing all the training, hoping the surgeon has done a good job and kind of fixed me back together.
“It’s still good to have those type of feelings and have other nerves, because it helps you perform at your best.
“If I get to play I have got a hell of a lot of people to thank really. The ECB have been amazing and got me back on track really.
“I have felt no pain or discomfort since I came out here. I am 100% sure I am over this injury and ready to go.”