Strauss hails courageous Onions

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Graham Onions & Graeme Swann

Graham Onions celebrates with Graeme Swann after courageously surviving the final over of the third Test at Newlands

Andrew Strauss hardly dared hope Graham Onions could pull off a second great escape in as many attempts - but admits he should never have doubted England’s immovable number 11.

It was Onions who kept out the last over at Centurion as England began their four-Test series against South Africa with a nerve-jangling draw - and he was at it again at Newlands.

Morne Morkel made things even tougher for the Durham tailender than Makhaya Ntini had last time. But he came through just as well for a precious nought not out which kept England 1-0 up with one match to play, and therefore in an unbeatable position in the series.

Strauss, and Onions, had seen Ian Bell (78) and Paul Collingwood shut out South Africa for 57 overs in a 112-run stand - and it seemed sure, after beginning the last day on 132 for three, they would not end up in another scrape to salvage the stalemate.

They duly did, though, leaving the England captain fearing the worst when Onions and Graeme Swann had to keep South Africa at bay for the last 17 balls.

“I was thinking. ‘We’re in this situation again, and it’s not often the end of the story is the same’,” Strauss reasoned.

“I was feeling pretty comfortable until Graham went in there. But he did a great job again.”

Strauss’ hopes had risen gradually through the day - until Collingwood went, and was soon followed by three more batsmen.

“I always feel that as batsmen we should apologise to him (Onions) for having put him in that situation - although I thought it was an unbelievable partnership between Collingwood and Bell,” Strauss said.

“At the start of the day, we were very much second-favourites.

“Three wickets down, fifth-day wicket - you assume that more times than not the fielding team is going to wrap it up.

“But even the way Jimmy (Anderson) batted this morning, you could tell it wasn’t a wicket where you were just going to fire people out.”

Mark Boucher & Ian Bell

Ian Bell played arguably his most vital innings for England, batting for almost five hours on his way to a determined 78

As England battled till the last for the third time in six months - they famously held on nine down in the first Ashes Test at Cardiff too - Strauss took great pride again.

“You need batsmen to stand up and say, ‘Look, I’m going to be the guy - I’m not going to leave it to someone else’,” he said.

“We’ve seen ‘Colly’ do that quite a few times recently, and he found a very worthy ally in Ian Bell.”

As for Onions, he too thought England’s sixth-wicket pair were saving him the trouble this time.

“Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood got us into a fantastic position - and with 10 overs to go, I was thinking. ‘I’m quite happy with my trainers on and nothing to worry about’,” Onions said.

“All of a sudden a few wickets fell, and I was next into bat.

“It was a lot worse waiting to go into bat than actually being out there.”

Morkel tested him to the limit, though.

“I felt in control of the situation, but it was definitely harder than the one in the first Test,” Onions reported.

“I’m a massive admirer of Dale Steyn - and hats off to both him and Morkel.

“He’s a great bowler, and I’m just thankful I managed to block it out again.”

Onions, who does not have a first-class fifty to his name but did start off as a batsman in club cricket, believes hard work in the nets - with his “throw-down buddy” Jonathan Trott, among others - is paying off.

“I like to think I’ve prepared myself for days like these,” he added.

“Obviously, I’m not going to lie - I’d rather not be in that position; I’d rather see ‘Belly’ see us through, because he played so well.

JP Duminy & South Africa

JP Duminy claimed two wickets in successive overs to raise South African hopes, but they were unable to land the final blow

“But to get that draw is the most important thing.”

For South Africa captain Graeme Smith, and Morkel, it was despair rather than elation.

“They probably need to promote Graham Onions,” Smith suggested, with a wry smile.

“It’s amazing how the emotions change. With 15 overs to go, you are probably thinking ‘what if?’ - then suddenly we have been able to show great character and push it down to the last ball.

“But obviously there is massive disappointment in that dressing room at not being able to take that last wicket.

“It’s hugely frustrating not being able to land the knockout blow,” Smith added.

“We came into this Test with a lot of players under pressure and questions being asked.

“We were put in on a wicket that went around a lot, and the guys showed a lot character. We set up a Test win; we played positive cricket.

“It’s disappointing looking back over the three matches that we let ourselves down in Durban as we did. But I don’t want to take anything away from England. They’ve showed a lot of strength of character and have made us earn every inch.”

Smith spared a thought for Morkel too.

“I said to him just to commit 100% to whatever he wanted to bowl - don’t get caught 50-50, and give it your best,” Smith said.

“He’s probably carrying the whole world on his shoulders in that dressing room at the moment, but he gave it 100%.

“It’s obviously disappointing he couldn’t see the stumps rattle or get a caught behind. But I think he bowled a good over.”

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