Another Onions bag stalls Middlesex
Durham 259 and 37 for 0 lead Middlesex 196 (Dexter 52, Onions 5-39) by 100 runs
Graham Onions is fully aware that, at 30 years old and with major back surgery on his medical record, the prime years of his career are probably a matter for reflection now rather than anticipation. Yet there is still within him a desire for recognition that would have encouraged him to believe that the 18th five-wicket haul of his first-class career was worth a little more for there being an England selector to witness it.
It was evident in his response when it was suggested to him afterwards that it was better to be taking wickets for Durham this week than wind up as the odd man out at Headingley. "No, I'd rather be in the England squad," he said. "To be in the England squad is a great achievement. I've missed out recently but I want to try to put myself in there with a chance
"I realise at this stage that I'm down the pecking order and that's fine because I can come here and play for Durham and do as well as I can. But I'm only [another bowler's] loss of form or a couple of injuries away from selection and I have to make sure I'm fit and strong and performing.
"And like Nick Compton showed last year, if you keep scoring runs or keep taking wickets eventually England can't ignore you." In an Ashes year, he was never likely to be indifferent about his chances.
From his vantage point in the media centre, selector James Whitaker would have seen nothing he did not already know about what Onions can do. But the knowledge that he is still doing it, even on the most inhospitable of days, would have made his visit worthwhile, alongside such notes that he made about Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick on the Durham side, and James Harris, who is beginning to find his feet after a start at Middlesex disrupted by a hamstring injury.
Harris has bowled well at times in this match and made useful runs, too - 37 of them as Middlesex battled to deny Durham a lead that would put them out of contention. Neil Dexter and John Simpson did their bit, too, in rescuing their side from a potentially sticky end at 35 for 5.
But the day belonged more to Onions, who exploited the conditions better than anyone, swinging the ball away to find the edge as Joe Denly and Gareth Berg gave catches to the slips and getting some unexpected bounce that surprised Simpson enough, even when seemingly well set, for an attempted pull to loop in the air to mid-off instead. Dawid Malan plainly thought he should have survived a ball that was still climbing when it hit him on the pad but umpire Martin Bodenham, after a moment's consideration, did not agree.
"It is not nice conditions to play cricket in, to be honest, even though the showers spiced the wicket up a bit and, at 30, if I had been bowling into the wind I would be struggling," Onions said.
Onions stressed that bowlers need to stay mentally ready between showers but five interruptions certainly did not help Middlesex, whose batsmen naturally struggled to settle into their rhythm. Middlesex began the match as Division One leaders, yet spent much of the day battling to stay in contention.
Onions, who had removed the considerable threat posed by an in-form Sam Robson on the first evening, struck twice more before lunch. When Ben Stokes hit nightwatchman Tom Smith on the toe, bringing to an end a doughty performance by the left-arm spinner, Middlesex were struggling and it was only when Stokes began to bowl too short that they enjoyed some respite. Simpson punished him with a run of boundaries and added 68 with Dexter before falling.
Dexter completed a half-century before Stokes brought one back to have him caught behind off an inside edge. Harris by then was well set and he and Toby Roland-Jones added 45 for the ninth wicket before Harris hit a full toss from Borthwick straight to mid-on.
Their stand restricted Durham's lead to 63, but it grew by 37 in the 11 overs that remained and Middlesex will be disappointed not to have taken any wickets. They have another chance in the morning but should Durham survive the first hour without too many mishaps they will be strongly placed to chase a fourth win of the season.