Onions revels on green grass of home
Posted in England v West Indies 2009
The pitches on England’s recent tour of the Caribbean were so flat that you could not help but fear for the future of fast bowlers.
As unresponsive as a surly teenager, the tracks in the West Indies had the England seamers returning home nursing sore feet, aching limbs and broken hearts in equal measure.
If there were any lingering concerns over their health following that brute of a series, a match at Lord’s in early May is surely as good a remedy as they could wish for.
A pitch with a hint of grass, overcast skies, and batsmen boasting techniques with enough holes to make the Pope jealous - it doesn't get much better than that.
Graham Onions, Stuart Broad and James Anderson all made hay, the former ensuring his name will dominate the morning headlines by claiming 5-38 on his first appearance at this level.
Even Graeme Swann, the off-spinner, emerged with three wickets to go with his rumbustious unbeaten 63, meaning 15 wickets fell on a pulsating day which ended with England harbouring eminently realistic ambitions of wrapping up victory inside three days.
Those with tickets for the weekend may be left to rue West Indies’ capitulation today, but it was refreshing to see some sideways movement after a month of run-gorging in the Caribbean.
Few could argue that the drawn fourth Test at Barbados, when 17 wickets fell over five trying days, was more entertaining than what unfolded at Lord’s today, and certainly not the members of Onions’ family who travelled down from Durham to watch him make his Test debut.
He made the greatest use of the favourable conditions, removing Lendl Simmons, Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn and Denesh Ramdin in the space of seven memorable balls early in the evening session.
Much like the proverbial buses which run alongside St John’s Wood Road outside the ground, wickets arrived in bursts throughout the day.
West Indies pace bowler Fidel Edwards, who accounted for Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen with successive deliveries yesterday, again found himself on a hat-trick after wrapping up the England innings shortly after lunch.
Broad’s dismissals of Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan were separated by only 10 balls, while Swann dealt West Indies a mortal blow when he had Shivnarine Chanderpaul caught at slip immediately after bowling Devon Smith.
Onions’ sensational spell served to underline England’s almost complete dominance, but anyone tempted to suggest any unfairness in the balance between bat and ball would do well to remember that England made 377.
Admittedly, that total would have been significantly less had West Indies not shelled six catches yesterday - England dropped two this evening and made a horrible mess of a straightforward run-out - but this surface has done nothing more than reward bowlers who bowled full and straight, while providing batsmen with a perfectly reasonable examination of their technique.
In that regard, Onions did everything asked of him - and some.
Only time will tell how he fares against better players - this stunning performance suggests he may well get the chance to show us during the Ashes - but Onions appears to possess the ingredients (excuse the pun) of a top-class seamer.
He may not swing the ball as much as Anderson or find excessive lateral movement off the pitch, but, at 6ft 2in, bowling from close in to the stumps and targeting the top of off stump or just outside, Onions rarely gives the batsman a breather.
Having been comprehensively bowled first ball by Edwards, Onions then saw his first delivery in Test cricket pulled for four by Smith. His opening two overs cost 14, but he revealed something about his character by bouncing back to find Simmons’ edge with one that climbed sharply from just short of a length. The rest of the day is sure to be documented in Onions’ scrapbook.
He left the field to a standing ovation, having completed the transformation from a county bowler largely anonymous outside his native Durham to a match-winning international seamer in less than an hour.
Those for whom Onions was as a cricketer with an interesting surname before today now know he is a performer of substance - as a wickets tally which already stands at 22 this summer testifies.
The most encouraging thing from his and England’s point of view is that we are barely a week into May.