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Onions' lack of form worrying for England

Graham Onions' lack of form has larger implications for England's fast-bowling reserves

Andrew McGlashan in Queenstown

March 2, 2013

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Tom Latham takes a run as Graham Onions follows through, New Zealand XI v England XI tour game, Queenstown, 4th day, March 2, 2013
Graham Onions possibly lost out on a place in the first Test after a poor bowling performance in the tour game against the New Zealand XI in Queenstown © Getty Images
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Few people leave Queenstown with bad memories - unless you are involved in the England rugby squad - but Graham Onions has not had a time to remember in the shadow of the Remarkables mountain range.

It was a chastening outing for him against the New Zealand XI as he ended with match figures of 1 for 213 from 38 overs. That included a two-over period in the first innings which cost 33, and another two-over spell that went for 23 in the second.

As the game wore on, during the final day, his shoulders slumped further and it was not nice viewing to see a bowler, who had worked so hard to give himself another England opportunity, visibly lose confidence. A significant part of his problem came from his delivery stride as he sent down 11 no-balls.

While it would be foolish, and premature, to write off the possibility of Onions having a sustained second chance at the international level, it is by no means certain that he will add to his nine caps - the most recent of which came against West Indies, at Edgbaston, last year. He had earned every right to be regarded as the next in line after a 2012 domestic season where he took 72 wickets at 14.73. Figures like those demanded attention.

It is not Onions' fault that there is only the one warm-up match in New Zealand, but he certainly did not grasp his opportunity to put pressure on Stuart Broad for the final bowling place. It was a similar tale for him in India, where his warm-up form was disappointing: if you add together his last two appearances in an England shirt (Queenstown and Ahmedabad against Haryana), his combined figures are 2 for 313.

It has been suggested on the domestic circuit in England that Onions has lost some pace since his serious back injury. That would be no disgrace at all - it was career-threatening, and to see him just back on the field was a terrific story. Yet, at some stage, it may have to be acknowledged that a decline has occurred.

There was a good chance that if Onions had performed well against the New Zealand XI, he would have kept Broad out of the Test side for longer. He could, of course, just be out of form but watching his bowling first hand, it did appear a little more than that. This is an occasion where the England backroom staff will have to come into their own. Right now, if there was a late injury before Dunedin, it would be very difficult to pick Onions.

Which raises the question: there is an accepted stance at the moment that England's pace bowling stocks are well resourced, but does the evidence really support that? James Anderson and Steven Finn lead the line, but the latter has had some injury concerns. Broad is trying to resume a stalled Test career with no guarantee he will be able to string matches together with his troublesome heel and then what comes next is a little more uncertain, especially if Onions' problems are a sign of something more than just a dip in form.

Tim Bresnan is currently recuperating from a second elbow operation with an aim to being fit for the Champions Trophy. A continuation of his one-day career does not seem in too much doubt, but that cannot be said for Test cricket.

England have made a big play of the fact that there are a number of immediately interchangeable options for the full side. That does not necessarily ring true. Those names are ranked high on promise and low on experience, which is another reason Onions' faltering is an issue.

Chris Woakes was steady against the New Zealand XI, but does not yet appear a Test bowler and none of the quicks on the Lions tour of Australia (albeit on a trip consisting of solely 50-over cricket) have enjoyed a standout trip. Stuart Meaker and Toby Roland-Jones have plenty of time to forge international careers, while Reece Topley, Tymal Mills and the Overtons - Craig and Jamie - are worth watching this year. James Harris has been around the one-day squad, but England have made a big play of the fact that there are a number of immediately interchangeable options for the full side. That does not necessarily ring true. Those names are ranked high on promise, low on experience which is another reason Onions' faltering is an issue.

Much interest is being given to the recovery of Chris Tremlett from the knee and back injuries which restricted him to one Championship match last season. He has recently returned from a training camp in Potchefstroom and is on course to be ready for the start of the English summer. If all goes well, and he can play the majority of the season, then England would dearly like to have him for the Ashes in Australia. That, however, does not scream strength and depth.

It is the one area Australia are edging ahead. Their rotation policy is causing much angst, but they are creating a collection of fast bowlers to call on. Injuries notwithstanding, it can read: Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Jackson Bird, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and, perhaps still, Ryan Harris.

Before the tour to India, the main concern for England was in the batting. Kevin Pietersen's return and Joe Root's emergence mean that someone as talented as Jonny Bairstow is on the sidelines, while James Taylor, who was in the middle order against South Africa, is back with the Lions. Now, in a year where fast-bowling resources, the experience of them and the durability, will play a key role there is just a sense that England's options are not quite as fulsome as 12 months ago.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by SDHM on (March 4, 2013, 9:52 GMT)

Personally think it's partially a problem of England's own making - loyalty is a good thing, but when it was clear Broad & Bresnan were struggling I think the selectors took it too far; they were treated as almost undroppable. We're now left with a group of highly talented and exciting young seamers, but they have little to no experience at Test level. I highly doubt Woakes will get a game in New Zealand either (and unlike the author I feel he is far better suited to Tests than he is to limited overs cricket) which begs the question as to why these young bowlers are being called into the squads only to be ignored. The aforementioned loyalty is also probably what has done for Onions; he's been carried around by England taking out drinks and not actually bowling, is it any surprise he's gone downhill?

Posted by StoneRose on (March 4, 2013, 9:48 GMT)

What a poor article, with a capital H for hyperbole. Onions had a bad game. Put that against an oustanding comeback season. Tim Bresnan has an elbow injury. He is in his mid-20s. Yet this article questions whether he will ever play Tests again. "Chris Woakes is not a Test bowler". Well how do you know when he hasn't played? Why are our selectors - who are a damn sight better than Australia's - picking him in the squad if he is not a Test bowler? He has experience of playing domestically in NZ after all. "Australia are edging ahead". Yet all the bowlers you mention are average at best, perhaps excepting Pattinson and Harris, but the latter is so injury prone he had to miss domestic T20 cricket.

Posted by JG2704 on (March 3, 2013, 19:00 GMT)

@Shan156 on (March 3, 2013, 3:02 GMT) - I think you're prob right. 12-18 months is a long time in cricket. Back along I'd have said we had great depth but while Jimmy has maintained his standards and Finn has improved - for varying reasons guys like Broad,Bres,Tremlett etc are not looking what they were

Posted by JG2704 on (March 3, 2013, 18:56 GMT)

@R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (March 2, 2013, 18:38 GMT) -I think Aus pace attack will be a whole different proposition in England. I'm not sure about Mckay. I know he was decent in the ODI series but not sure how good he is in the longer format - basically because I don't know. Aus seem to be struggling in the spin dept which is why the look more inept vs India. You have to feel sorry for Mcgill (who was the 2nd spinner for much of the time when Warne was around) as he would be the premier spinner in the current Aus line up.

Posted by bumsonseats on (March 3, 2013, 17:24 GMT)

not sure he has been ill treated by the ECB he has a a bad injury and after a long recuperation has made a steady come back. i don't think for the 1st test he was to be a consideration as long as broad came through the last game. i feel he has been unlucky but that goes with the territory. i think monty is still with the squad, that been so if swanny for some reason was missing for the next test monty goes in with no bowling since the 4th test against india

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (March 3, 2013, 16:05 GMT)

@Paul Rone-Clarke (post on March 3, 2013, 15:02 GMT): Of all the fast bowlers on Aus. production line, I was most impressed with Starc and maybe Bird. Now sadly even both these bowlers are on the injury list, and Pattinson... yes he did very well in the first test against India, but I'm just waiting for that headline on Cricinfo soon to come: "Pattinson ruled out of rest of series with [insert injury here]"...

The likes of McKay would add some much-needed consistency and fitness to the Aus. bowling line-up; pace is nothing without these. Always believed Hauritz was treated awfully, and I'd have him over Beer/Doherty/Smith any day. Don't know enough about Stephen O'Keefe to comment, but let's face it - he can't be worse than any of the others trialled of late.

Posted by nzcricket174 on (March 3, 2013, 15:23 GMT)

Even as a Kiwi, it was difficult watching Onions fall apart. Its hard to believe it was the same man who took a stump for reward against the West Indies four years ago, having demolished them.

Posted by   on (March 3, 2013, 15:02 GMT)

@ R_U_4_REAL_NICK Agree on theAussie bowlers. Watched them recently and they look very average to me. Yes a lot of "just" above average seamers added to the guys who England massacred a couple of years back (Siddle, Johnson, Hilfenhaus 700+ for 3) . If they think Stark or Pattinson replace Lee for instance, they are a long way short. Not even close. Watching Pattinson and Siddle run in and bowl so poorly today (Sehwag the only wicket to fall has been a comedy act for most of the past 3 years, almost a walking wicket and only playing due to mis-placed faith in hm by Indian selectors - He's rapidly becoming the Afridi of Indian batting boom- boom- all the way back to the pavilion). England are choosing among class seamers. Anderson, Finn, Tremlett, Bresnan and sometimes Broad. The Aussies are building hype around the likes of Stark - who let's face it - has done nothing or Pattinson who today looked like a one legged man in a butt kicking contest. Yeah bring it on Oz - Bring it on

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Andrew McGlashanClose
Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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