'Bunny' proves he's anything but
Graham Onions had seen it all before as he strode out at No. 11 with a Test match to save, and duly guided England to a draw for the second time in three Tests. However, Andrew Strauss admitted being less confident in his last man, despite Onions' heroics at Centurion three weeks ago.
"I was feeling pretty comfortable until Graham went in there," Strauss said, which brought a smile from his fast bowler sat opposite. "But he did a great job again. I always feel that as batsmen we should apologise to him for having put him in that situation."
One minute Onions was watching Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood guide England to safety, the next he was the man in the firing line as he withstood a hostile Morne Morkel. He came within a whisker of gloving the penultimate ball of the match to the keeper, but TV replays confirmed it had brushed his shirt after the South Africans reviewed in desperation. The final ball then sailed harmlessly by off stump, before Onions punched the air and embraced with Graeme Swann.
"I thought Ian 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."
Onions faced 11 balls in total as he and Swann survived the final 17 deliveries of a pulsating Test after South Africa had created a late chance to level the series. Having survived the last over against Makhaya Ntini at Centurion, Onions rated his efforts of fending off Morkel a greater achievement.
"It was a lot worse waiting to go into bat than actually being out there," he said. But it was just great again to eventually get that draw, as it felt a lot tougher. I felt in control of the situation but it was definitely harder than the one in the first Test.
"A lot of credit should go to their bowlers, I'm a massive admirer of Dale Steyn and I think he ran in and bowled so many overs. 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 nickname within the team is 'Bunny', one of the more original efforts going around as it relates to bunions, not batting ability. Which is just as well, because he is proving far from a rabbit with the bat and it makes all the extra work in the nets worthwhile when a bowler can help save a Test. It's not as if South Africa will need any more irking at the moment, but they won't like to hear that Onions' batting 'buddy' is none other than Jonathan Trott.
"I've been a lot of work with Phil Neale and my throw-down buddy Jonathon Trott has been doing a lot of technical stuff with me and just generally giving me a lot of confidence especially for days like these," Onions said. "I like to think I've prepared myself for days like these. 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. But to get a draw is the most important thing."
Even though the series now can't be lost for England, Strauss wants to ensure that England don't let South Africa off the hook in the final Test at the Wanderers. Although the Ashes victory will retain a special place in the hearts and minds of this squad, a win or draw next week will secure their most notable success since the 2005 Ashes when the Australians were near their peak.
"It's nice to know they can't win it. But ultimately, we came here to win this series and we're in a great position to do that," Strauss said. "We'll step on to that plane home pretty unhappy with ourselves if we allow them back in now.
"We understand we've got to be better than we were in this game at the Wanderers. But we're also quite buoyed by the fact we're 1-0 up and have a great opportunity to finish it off, come next week."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo