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April 21, 2012
Middlesex 188 and 21 for 1 trail Durham 238 (Stokes 45, Finn 3-55, Berg 3-56) by 29 runs
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Matches: Middlesex v Durham at Lord's
For a bowler intent on forcing his way back into the England side, there is probably no better way to catch the attention of the selectors than to bowl out the England captain, particularly when all eyes are on him.
Actually, there is a better way: you can bowl him out twice, as Graham Onions has.
The Durham seamer did it on Friday with his second ball, inflicting an uncomfortable failure on Andrew Strauss right at the start of his attempt to find some batting form ahead of the domestic Test season.
With Lord's spared by the passing black clouds for all bar four overs of day three of this rain-disrupted match, Strauss had the opportunity to redeem himself slightly more than 24 hours later as Middlesex bowled Durham out for 238, with an hour still left in the day.
Yet the outcome was scarcely better. The ball with his name on it took a little longer to arrive and he had managed to put six runs on the board but come it did, in the form of the 25th delivery he faced, and again it was Onions propelling it.
Although Onions was running in from the Nursery End this time, as opposed to the Pavilion End, it was much the same ball with precisely the same outcome, moving in the air, nipping back off the pitch and beating the left-hander's cautious push forward, this time off an inside edge.
A double failure for Strauss, then, but more evidence with which Onions can back up his case for a return to the role he was occupying impressively enough before a back injury struck him down in 2010, requiring surgery and threatening his career.
His first-innings figures of 6 for 45 are his best since 2009, reinforcing his insistence, voiced on Friday evening, that the psychological legacy of his injury has been overcome now as completely as the physical effects.
His second innings may bring a similarly rich haul. Indeed, he had already had Strauss dropped at gully without scoring. Strauss had left every ball he could safely avoid and been hit on the thigh pad by another. The 16th was the first he had actually put a bat on, but Callum Thorp put it down.
After an unconvincing winter and without a Test century since November 2010, Strauss will face Worcestershire the week after next and then Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. Neither match will offer him any easy opportunities but at least there will be no Graham Onions.
For Onions, this match presents a double opportunity, not only to impress Strauss but to exert some pressure on the Middlesex bowler, Steve Finn, who is probably as vulnerable as anyone currently in the Test side to impressive figures produced by his rivals on the county circuit.
Onions, who has not played a Test since January 2010, reckons he is about sixth in the pecking order of England pace bowlers, having taken 50 first-class wickets last season, his rehabilitation year, and gone to the Pakistan series as injury cover.
His performance here seemed to invite a response from Finn and there was a sense that the 23-year-old was trying to come up with one as he charged in, full of purpose from the Pavilion End.
But he might have tried too hard. Three of his first four deliveries were dispatched for fours by Michael di Venuto. It was typical of his opening spell, which contained too many balls that were over-pitched or too short. He would have been asked to take a breather sooner had he not suddenly produced a beauty to uproot di Venuto's off-stump in his eighth over.
His second spell was better, in line and length, but while he picked up two more important wickets with good balls, the first edged by the dangerous Ben Stokes to Strauss at first slip, the second trapping Ian Blackwell in front, he seldom looked as threatening as Onions.
Onions has an attachment to Lord's. He took his first five-wicket haul in county cricket here and marked his Test debut with five for 39 against West Indies in 2009. How he would love to reprise those figures against the same opponents next month, although it may take an injury to allow it to happen. Form counts for something, but so does loyalty with the present England regime.
Onions did his bit with the bat here too, combining with Scott Borthwick in a last-wicket stand that added a useful 44 runs, enabling Durham to take a 50-run lead.
It might have been bigger still had Stokes progressed beyond 45 but it might have been smaller but for the early demise at the start of play of Middlesex's Neil Dexter, who had survived worse conditions on Friday, playing some fine shots, to be unbeaten on 65 overnight, yet perished to the third ball of the day, wide of off-stump from Stokes, which had him caught at second slip.
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