England v West Indies, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 2nd day

Onions ushers return to normal service

Andrew Miller at Lord's

May 7, 2009

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Graham Onions raises the ball to the crowd after picking up five wickets on his Test debut at Lord's, England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, May 7, 2009
Onions bag: A dream come true, but hopefully not a May anomaly © Getty Images
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After a four-year hiatus, the traditional May massacre at Lord's is firmly back on the agenda. Through a variety of failings, some of England's own making, others the fault of the weather and a deathly flat wicket, each of the last six Tests at this venue have all emerged as draws, including three supposed bankers right at the top end of the season. But the chances of a world record-equalling seventh blank in a row are, to judge by the lack of fight shown by West Indies on a chilly second day, as slim as the MCC's prospects of avoiding massive refunds from their best gate of the match on Saturday.

After clinging, clawing, and refusing to yield throughout their series victory in the Caribbean in March, West Indies let their guard drop in alien conditions, and the moment's hesitation was all the invitation England needed to swarm through their defences. Graham Onions will rightly take the plaudits, but for West Indies, six dropped catches in a wasteful final session on Wednesday proved to be the catalyst. Today it was not merely the ball but their morale which fell to the turf and refused to budge.

"It was a very impressive display by England today," said West Indies' coach, John Dyson. "They bowled with pace, they bowled with intent, they hit the seam and they bowled in the right areas. But if we'd taken the catches presented we were looking at a chance to bowl England out for somewhere around 225-250. You saw what they ended up with, and that makes a huge difference to the mindset, and I suppose the energy level."

And so it was England - themselves profligate in the opening exchanges of the contest - who puffed out their chests and rolled back the years. From the visit to Lord's of Zimbabwe in 2000, through to the crushing of Bangladesh five years later, England had won four of their six May fixtures on this ground by an innings, and a fifth - against New Zealand in 2004 - by seven wickets. "You can see they are far more comfortable in their own conditions," remarked Dyson. "It's got to be an amazing fight from here."

Given those precedents, it would be premature to get carried away by the dominance that England achieved today, although for the moment, Onions, the man with a surname that headline-writers cannot help but relish, will rightly lap up his acclaim. "Today I gave myself a pat on the back and I'm very proud of what I've done," he said, after returning figures of 5 for 38 in his maiden Test appearance. "It's just a brilliant day for myself really, and a massive confidence boost. For sure a day I'll never forget."

It was a remarkable performance from Onions, simply one of those days that defy all imagination. He rose above a golden duck and a first-ball long-hop to scalp three wickets in an over and four in seven balls, and then - after his Durham team-mate Paul Collingwood had dropped the catch that could have secured his place on the honours-board - he claimed the vital wicket without assistance by trapping Lionel Baker lbw. For the second day running, after Ravi Bopara's century, a sticky label with his figures was on the wall and waiting for his return.

And yet, without wishing to rain on his parade, peculiar performances have abounded in this fixture in the past - and as he runs his eye down the honours board tomorrow, the name of Ed Giddins might well crop up as a cautionary tale. In only his second Test, against Zimbabwe on May 18, 2000, Giddins claimed the remarkable figures of 5 for 15 in seven overs after Andrew Caddick had softened up the top order, but two Tests later his career was at an end.

There is no reason to assume that the same fate awaits, however. After all, another debutant seamer, James Anderson, also wrote his name onto the board in 2003, and he's gone on to do alright for himself. What is more, Onions showed a promising variety in the dismissals he created. As Dyson noted, England's taller seamers extracted more from the wicket than the shorter West Indian attack, and while swing was a gift from the Gods on a cold and overcast day, the arrow-straight effort ball that turned Lendl Simmons into Onions' maiden Test wicket might even have disturbed his equilibrium in Barbados or Trinidad.

 
 
"It was a very impressive display by England today. They bowled with pace, they bowled with intent, they hit the seam and they bowled in the right areas." West Indies' coach, John Dyson
 

"I think my job is to run in, hit the deck hard, use the ball, hopefully swing it around a little bit, and get some wickets," said Onions. "Some days you beat the bat but it doesn't work for you. Today was a day when everything seemed to work. When I went for 15 in two overs I thought it might be quite tough, this Test cricket. But then it all happened so quickly, and to get five wickets, it's a cliché, but it's a dream come true."

Such dreams were probably rather further from Onions' mind when West Indies embarked on their first innings. Far from being entrusted with the new ball to help calm his nerves, Onions, Tim Bresnan and even the usual leader of the attack, Anderson, were all relegated to make way for Graeme Swann and his peculiar new-ball escapade.

The idea of entrusting the new ball to a spinner was, according to Onions, a tactic planned far in advance, although in reality, the ebullience of Swann's earlier batting, coupled with his natural bravado, probably meant he walked straight up to his captain and swiped the cherry before anyone could intervene. With Ravi Bopara showing the way on Wednesday, cockiness has been an unexpectedly welcome trait in this new-look England dressing-room. It certainly beats the jaded complacency of old.

"We just told him to hit the seam and don't get it scuffed," said Onions, speaking on behalf of his fellow pacemen. The Swann experiment was unconventional and no doubt unsettling for the batsmen, but most of all, it was further handy evidence of the emergence of a new brains trust within the England set-up, which is a very welcome development after their headless chicken imitations at the turn of the year. And, as if confirmation is really needed any longer, it underlined Swann's place right at the heart of England's think-tank. It's hard to imagine Monty Panesar being persuaded to think quite so laterally.

To judge from Onions' early experiences as an England cricketer, the ill-winds of midwinter are blowing away with every day. "The team ethic I've walked into has been fantastic," he said. "I guess there's a lot of love in the changing room. There are people in there I didn't think I'd have the opportunity to play with, but today, after they patted me on the back, and said well done, I really did feel part of this team and I feel I've got a lot to offer."

The first thing Onions can offer is a cautionary tale. Last week, on the morning of his call-up to the England squad, he celebrated with six wickets for Durham as Somerset were bowled out for 69 in the County Championship. Two days and one follow-on later, Somerset had batted the game to a standstill by reaching 485 for 5 in their second innings.

"I realise it's going to be hard work," Onions said of the last rites of this contest, "but that's Test match cricket." But Dyson, who played in the Australia side who lost the Headingley Test after enforcing the follow-on in 1981, has rather more experience of how hard it really is. Especially for a team who, for all the application they showed three months ago in Jamaica, have not come close to replicating that intensity in this Test.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by hytman on (May 10, 2009, 23:21 GMT)

well, well, well everyone is screaming Onions! Onions! England! England! lets see if it will be the same scenario when West Indies are more use to the condition. Then we will see if they can maintain the same vivacity. Remember the game would have be all to different if the umpire gave Bopara out momentum and confidence would have all went out the door also swann would not have a partner to carry out that cammio. Thus the second Test will clarify it for every one

Posted by LoganGibbo on (May 8, 2009, 23:44 GMT)

Virubhai,

Onions may have got a fiver against a test nation that's ranked no7 or 8 but he still got a fiver against a team that recently beat England in a test series.

It shows the vast improvements being made by the English team and overcoming serious leadership and Bowling issues.

Posted by CricketPissek on (May 8, 2009, 12:43 GMT)

i love remembering the amazing Lords test match of 2006 when Sri Lanka pulled off a rearguard save that beggars belief. Mahela scored one of the greatest test centuries and the tail wagged around him. The West Indies need something extra special to get them out of this hole, so it's not impossible. Onions has done well on his debut. Let him be. No need for namecalling. He may or may not be mediocre, let him prove himself

Posted by Abid_Khan14 on (May 8, 2009, 12:14 GMT)

He ain't a mediocre player. A 5-fer is a 5-fer, it doesn't matter who they are playing against. Well done Onions keep it up!

Posted by budhia78 on (May 8, 2009, 10:57 GMT)

It was very refreshing to see a follow-on finally being enforced in test cricket. One was beginning to think that this had been relegated to history ever since Ganguly's India beat Waugh's Australia at Calcutta after following on!

Posted by Super_Hans on (May 8, 2009, 9:15 GMT)

West Indies proved to be a stern challenge for England a few months ago, and it's nice to see England put in a solid bowling performance, albeit in helpful conditions. I still think we have a long way to go to seriously challenge the Aussies (some of whom are taking to early english conditions rather well!), but on this evidence we can at least put in some decent performances, and hopefully be competitive.

Posted by virubhai on (May 8, 2009, 7:18 GMT)

Onions might have got a fiver but it makes no dlfference to the fact that they ver playing a test nation ranked at no.8 or no.7 albeit the fact this might giv a renewed sense of accomplishment to Strauss, all what i can say to sammykent is don't even dream of beating the aussies in the ashes cause you guys will be playing an aussie side that will vant to prove itself, all the same cheers mate

Posted by PottedLambShanks on (May 8, 2009, 7:12 GMT)

I do find it rather sad that after a day like yesterday, Mr Miller remains intent on his England-bashing. Obviously he can't accuse Onions of being a money-grabber(the accusation levelled at the team when they took the brave decision to return to India under KP), but he can call him the next Ed Giddins.

Deary me. There's nothing wrong with being happy once in a while, Mr Miller.

Posted by redneck on (May 8, 2009, 6:03 GMT)

aussies eat cooked onions with sausages and a slice of bread!!! lol, nah its good to see a bowling preformance like that at lords instead of a bat-fest!

Posted by Nipun on (May 8, 2009, 4:22 GMT)

Typical English response.A fiver on debut against the hapless WI batting lineup,& the British media are going crazy. One advice for British media:-If you ever dream of being as competitive again as 2004-05 against top teams,stop such needless hype for mediocre players & remind them of sterner tests again & again.

Posted by sammykent on (May 8, 2009, 3:19 GMT)

As a cricket fan it is great to see England bouncing back from leadership issues and a perceived lack of fire in the belly. Congratulations to Onions on making the board on debut, it is gives him and his team mates a lot of confidence ahead of the Ashes. Bopara also has been excellent and a confident, fiesty batsman to join KP in the top order should hold England in good stead. Taylor and Edwards are competent enough to trouble the best but without support from the batsmen they will struggle to maintain focus and intensity. Australia may be about to walk into the hornets nest. They are inconsistent, their main players are overworked and the reality of their international standing has not yet been reflected in rankings. New Zealand, whilst a poor test playing nation, addressed their transitional period far better than Australia and their obvious superiority in ODI's reflected this. England now appear to have confidence, talent and leadership so the Ashes may not be a dead rubber.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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