England news March 2, 2013

Onions' lack of form worrying for England

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

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