Warwickshire v Durham, Edgbaston, 1st day May 2, 2012

Onions and Barker relishing second chances

Warwickshire 116 for 5 (Bell 59*) trail Durham 163 (Barker 5-33) by 47 runs

Sometimes it the threat of losing everything that focuses the mind and brings the best out of people. Certainly it was two men who had faced career-ending episodes who dominated the first day of this match.

Keith Barker, the Warwickshire allrounder, came to professional cricket only after his career in football ground to a halt, while Graham Onions, the Durham seamer, feared his cricket playing days might be over after sustaining a serious back injury that resulted in surgery and a prolonged period of rehabilitation throughout 2010. Both are now playing the sort of cricket that will win games for their sides and have the England selectors keeping tabs on their progress.

That Onions impressed with the ball will come as little surprise. He took ten wickets in Durham's last game, against Middlesex, after all. But his contribution with the bat was less expected. The fact that he top-scored, however, and played some surprisingly elegant strokes reflects as poorly on his top-order colleagues as it does on his own admirable efforts. Durham's batsmen reacted to a low, slow pitch offering seam assistance with a series of loose shots that suggested a lack of application.

Barker is also developing a reputation as a dangerous bowler. This was his second five-wicket haul of the season and once again he showed the ability swing the ball both ways at a decent pace. At one stage he claimed four wickets for one run in 12 balls - including three wickets in an over as a trio of left-handers - Ben Stokes, Phil Mustard and Scott Borthwick - fell in almost identical fashion. Each flashed outside off stump, edged and was neatly caught in Warwickshire's excellent slip cordon. Had William Porterfield, at gully, clung on to another tricky chance offered by Ian Blackwell on ten, then Barker would have taken five wickets in just 14 balls and Durham would have been precariously placed on 106 for 9.

As it was, Blackwell was an unlikely counterfoil to Onions in a 49-run stand for the ninth-wicket that saved Durham from complete capitulation. Their total should still prove at least 100 below par. Chris Wright, with four wickets, also impressed once again and dismissed both openers; Will Smith with one that nipped away and Michael di Venuto with one that nipped back.

"There were lots of times I feared I'd never play again," Onions told ESPNcricinfo afterwards. "I thought about training for other jobs like umpiring, coaching or teaching. But if you're going to come back from that sort of injury, you need a lot of determination. I'm desperate to wear that England shirt again but I love playing and appreciate playing for Durham more than ever now."

Much attention will, no doubt, focus on Barker's past as a professional footballer. A former striker, Barker represented England at age-group level and signed for Blackburn when he was just 16. He was unable to progress as anticipated, however, and by the time Northwich Victoria - in the Conference - had told him they were unable to offer him a new contract, he could tell it was time to find a new job. Warwickshire, who were the first club to spot his potential once he returned to club cricket, beat off a rival bid from Lancashire, where he developed as a young cricketer, for his services.

It is his future in cricket that should be of more interest. As an allrounder who bowls left-arm swing at a decent pace and who can also bat in the top six, Barker could well be forcing himself into the England reckoning before too long. Perhaps, with England seeking a replacement for the left-arm swing of Ryan Sidebottom in their T20 side, he could have a role to play in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka later this year. He is improving with almost every outing and, as he put it: "I think I learnt through football, don't waste the opportunity you've got."

England may not be the only side taking an interest in Barker. He declined to sign the contract extension Warwickshire offered at the end of last season so will, as a consequence, be out of contract in September. He will surely not lack suitors. "We'll be coming back to him pretty soon," Ashley Giles confirmed afterwards.

Ian Bell showed how to bat on such a surface. Leaving the ball well and resisting the urge to follow the ball, Bell was content to wait for the poor delivery and displayed some typically well-timed drivers. He was reprieved twice, however, once on 51 when Mitchell Claydon was unable to cling on to a fiendishly sharp caught-and-bowled chance and once more, off the last delivery of the day, when di Venuto, at slip, put down a more straightforward outside edge off Borthwick. "Belly has been doing everything right," Giles said. "I've never seen him fitter, he is technically proficient and is not far away from a big score."

Varun Chopra and Jonathan Trott were unable to prosper. Perhaps unsettled by an incident when he was forced to use his bat to fend off a throw from Onions, the bowler, shying at the stumps having fielded in his follow-through, Trott soon departed when he edged an uncharacteristically loose drive, while Chopra was drawn into fending at one that climbed on him outside off stump.

This match represents something of a barometer for Warwickshire. They have not beaten Durham since 2006 and, in that time, have been defeated - sometimes by thumping margins - by them seven times. If Warwickshire's Championship challenge is to prove viable, this is exactly the sort of game they have to win. They also expect Chris Woakes to be available for first-team selection within little more than a week.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jackie on May 3, 2012, 8:18 GMT

    I feel that fans need education in cricket if their confidence is so low in Bell, jmcilhinney. All batsmen go through loss of form at some time or another. But you stick with players who have proven class. It is unrealistic to expect batsmen never to have fallow periods. It is not just loss of confidence, a run of bad luck, or a failure of technique, although they all play a part, but it is as though the brain is just taking a rest. You get the same if you are a writer. But you just have to keep writing and then one day the creative flow just starts up again. Sangakkarra who recently was No 1 batsman in the world has hit such a patch of bad form - he averaged 8 in the recent Series against England - that he has dropped himself from a recent IPL match (he is captain). Bell was recently No 3 in the world. Batsmen would be helped through these periods if there wasn't such a media frenzy. Ditto for Strauss.

  • John on May 3, 2012, 2:33 GMT

    It definitely is good to see Bell scoring some runs, and those under difficult circumstances. I feel that he probably would have been in the England team for at least the first Test against WI anyway but going in with some runs behind him will give him and the fans some confidence (although some fans confidence in Bell is very low indeed) and makes the likelihood that he'll score some in that Test greater. The fact that he made them against good bowling from someone pressing very hard for England selection is all the more pleasing. I want to see Bell in the England team and scoring runs but I don't think he can or should survive a poor series this summer.

  • Jackie on May 2, 2012, 22:13 GMT

    There's a full report on Bell's innings in the Guardian if anyone is interested. Coming in at 0-1 in the first over Bell soon found himself at 14-4 so his achievement of clawing Warwickshire back to 116-5 (with a good partnership with Maddy who got 35) was special in the context of the game, given the remarkable accuracy and ferocity of Onions' bowling. England fans will be pleased that Bell played a very composed innings and managed eight fours for his 59*. Obviously batting will still be tough tomorrow but at least Warwickshire are not in the mire. Bell's contribution didn't end with his batting. He made a scorching catch in the slips, one handed diving low down. Di Venuto and Benkenstein went for 29 and 11 respectively which shows how difficult conditions were for batting and helpful to bowlers as they are both solid batsmen who do not throw their wickets away. Likewise Chopra and Trott who went for 0 and 2.

  • Michael on May 2, 2012, 20:00 GMT

    Those onion-related puns strike again, Onions "relishing" his opportunities. Haha, it's the way they tell 'em. Graham certainly seems to be working on a recall to the England side on a variety of fronts: batting, bowling, and perfecting his throwing at the batsman in his follow-through. Possessing the latter skill certainly did Simon Jones and Steve Harmison no harm in their day. Perhaps best if you wait till Matty Hayden comes out of retirement, though, Graham, rather than nearly decapitating one of your possible future team-mates.

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