Durham v Yorkshire, Chester-le-Street, 2nd day April 25, 2013

Onions makes Yorkshire wince

Yorkshire 177 (Root 49, Onions 5-63) trail Durham 237 (Mustard 70, Bresnan 4-41) by 60 runs

Batting is a tough proposition in Durham in April and it gets no tougher than when Graham Onions is scowling at you at the end of his run. Durham traditionally refers to itself as the land of the Prince Bishops, but when Onions gets the ball in his hand it becomes the land of the High Fives. He even high fives in slightly menacing fashion. You get the impression that it is best not to mess up a high five with Onions, never mind put a catch down in the slips.

Under northern skies, nobody can match Onions' threat. Stern-faced and hostile, with jet black hair, he gives the impression that he might have been chiselled from the landscape itself; the harshest side of the hill, the one forever exposed to the blast of northerly winds. Nobody carries a county side with more resolve, nobody suggests more often that they are capable of turning a game single-handedly.

He nagged away constantly, unpicking the merest hint of a slovenly technique, his length full and insistent, his bouncer quick enough to keep a batsman honest. Yorkshire, newly promoted and not yet hardened to their challenge, surrendered five wickets to him and will have to meet him with more acumen second time around if they are to recover a first-innings deficit of 60. They came into Division One with a long unbeaten run behind them, but they are struggling to up their game.

While Onions rests, Durham privately wonder whether they have the capacity to maintain their first division status. When they throw him the ball, they feel like world beaters. Drizzle prevented play until after 4pm but, when Onions was finally allowed on the prowl, two England players, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, succumbed to his 10-over spell, as did another batsman increasingly attracting glowing reports, Gary Ballance. Add his two wickets overnight, and he had five of the first six Yorkshire wickets to fall.

Onions had an inactive time with England in the winter, when the wickets were deemed too unresponsive to suit him. He might have anticipated as much in India, as the Test series was contested on turning decks, but to arrive in New Zealand in the New Year to find the pitches unusually moribund was deeply frustrating. He never made England's final XI; en entire winter spent waiting and watching. Nobody took more wickets in Division One last season - 64 at only 14.98 - and he looks bent upon retribution.

Root suffered for sluggish footwork, half forward at best and bowled off stump. Until then, his 49 had been made with good tempo, which was good to see after his travails of the winter when spinning pitches in India, followed by turgid surfaces in New Zealand, allied to England's need to show defensive intent and his own limitations, all contributed to dogged Test innings of near-strokelessness.

Bairstow's dismissal was a soft one. Onions stopped at the end of his run and waved his two fielders on the hook 10 yards finer. He banged in the bouncer wide of off-stump, Bairstow tried to paddle it to the leg side and plopped it into the hands of Mark Stoneman at deep square leg. It has to be said that with a shot like that Bairstow did not look as if he had been chiselled from any sort of landscape at all. Ballance then edged to the wicketkeeper.

With Onions spent, Yorkshire might have imagined that the threat had subsided, but four overs later Ben Stokes had Adil Rashid lbw and, in the following over, Tim Bresnan slashed at Chris Rushworth and Paul Collingwood clung on in the slips. Under blue evening skies, Liam Plunkett, remained undefeated against his former county but two more wickets for Stokes brought Durham a useful first-innings lead.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo