Onions 'hurting' as Ashes hopes fade
Six months ago Graham Onions was pencilled into England's Ashes squad, but his hopes of taking on Australia in November are now hanging by a thread after the toughest time of his career which began with him being dropped before he developed knee and back injuries.
Onions' last act in an England shirt was to heroically survive the final over from Morne Morkel at Cape Town to secure the team a last-gasp draw for the second time in three Tests after he had fended off Makhaya Nitni at Centurion just over two weeks before. However, just days after his Newlands rearguard he was surprisingly omitted at Johannesburg and since then his year has gone from bad to worse.
He arrived in Bangladesh with what started as a minor back problem but was later diagnosed as a stress reaction that could have developed into a fully blown stress fracture. Although that worst case scenario hasn't occurred Onions, who also had surgery on his knee problem, hasn't played this season and is unlikely to take the field before September, which leaves him precious little time to secure a berth to Australia amongst a crowded England pace attack.
"The last few months have been massively frustrating," he told Cricinfo. "When you've had a place in the team for a while and you lose it it's hugely disappointing and hurts a lot. Before the injury everything had been like a dream for me, all I ever wanted to do was play for England, but the last six months have been tough. Now it's about me channelling that frustration.
"The rehabilitation is going well, but I can't give you a definite answer of when I'll be back," he added. "I had a bit of a rest when I came back from Bangladesh, but probably tried to come back a little too early. It's just a case of doing all I can and there are three our four Championship matches in September which I am aiming for. Fingers crossed by mid-August I will be bowling pain free."
In Onions' absence England's pace ranks have been swelled by the emergence of Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad. Finn is a certainty for the Ashes after his impressive start to Test cricket, while both Bresnan and Shahzad have a good chance of travelling along with the established pair of Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
There could be one more fast-bowling slot on the plane, but this England management team are unlikely to take a risk on anyone who has had a recent serious injury and Onions knows he faces a race against time.
"It's out my hands," he said. "If I can play in September that's as good as I can aim for at the moment. Then if I get wickets it's up to the selectors to decide. That's all I can ask for, and ask of myself. If I'm not fit I won't be selected and that's fair enough, but if I can take a few wickets I can give myself a chance."
But although it has hurt for Onions to watch others enjoy success for England, he has been very impressed with the recent performances of the bowling until. "It hasn't just been Steven Finn, Shahzad has started well and Bresnan, who is a good friend, has done really well.
"Now those three need to stay injury-free and keep winning games," he added with a hint of ruefulness. "They are all producing the goods and the England team is a great place to be at the moment."
Sadly for Onions, he isn't part of it at the moment and it could be a while before he finds his way back.
Graham Onions officially marked the start of the npower Urban Cricket World Record Attempt in Nottingham, where 2010 children participated in a mass game of cricket to set a New World Record
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo