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Graham Onions: ‘I was absolutely desperate to get on the plane for Ashes 2013/14’

Graham Onions
Jo Harman by Jo Harman 5 minute read

Ex-England, Durham and Lancashire paceman Graham Onions revisited the highs and lows of an eventful career in a conversation with Jo Harman back in 2017.

First published in 2017

From Durham with love

At the end of the season two players from every club in the North East went to a trial and I got selected. I was 18. Geoff Cook [then Durham coach] was watching and asked if I wanted to have a bowl at the Durham lads. I bowled quite well at Martin Love, who was our overseas at the time. Afterwards I was in the bar with me mam and dad and Geoff said, ‘We’d like you to come and be a professional at Durham’. I was just about to send my forms off for uni but my mam said, ‘It’s your choice – if you want to, you go for it’.

Time to shine

I got picked on some England performance camps around 2006, 2007 and that was when I met Kevin Shine. He basically changed the direction I was going and made me the bowler I am. I learnt the art of fast bowling. I’d consistently been going at four-and-a-half an over, averaging about 34. All of a sudden from 2008 onwards I started averaging 26 and taking quite a lot of wickets.

Getting the call

6-31 & 1-110 | Somerset v Durham, County Championship, Taunton | 2009

I’d had a few good seasons and there was talk about me playing for England. Harmy [Steve Harmison] and me were both on the brink of the squad. I remember early season going to Somerset, taking a five-fer on TV and getting some good players out like Langer and Trescothick. Then I got the call from [national selector] Geoff Miller. It was mixed emotions though because I got picked and Harmy didn’t.

Test debut

5-38 & 2-64 | England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord’s | 2009

Taking a five-fer on debut was a special moment. I got my cap from Darren Gough, who’s my hero, and then got bowled by a 94 mph full toss from Fidel Edwards. I got hit for two fours in my first over so I was starting to feel a bit of pressure but then I got my first wicket: Lendl Simmons, caught Strauss at slip. Then I just settled into a rhythm. I remember walking off the field and me mam and dad sitting in the stands. It was a moment I won’t ever forget.

Taking responsibility

4-58 & 1-74 | England v Australia, 2nd Test, Edgbaston | 2009

Instead of going with Broad and Anderson or Anderson and Flintoff, Andrew Strauss said, ‘Graham you’re going to open the bowling this morning’. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what it’s all about, a bit of pressure’. I got Watson out first ball, then Hussey second ball and Ponting a few overs later. It was only my fourth Test but I walked away thinking that I belonged.

Newlands blockade

2-69 & 1-87, 4* & 0* | South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Cape Town | 2010

I faced three or four balls from Steyn and somehow survived. I said to Swanny, ‘I can’t face Steyn, I just don’t like facing short, skiddy fast bowlers’. Swanny was like, ‘Absolutely no problem! You take Morkel, I’ll take Steyn’. He blocked out the penultimate over and then it came down to me. The second to last ball was a really sharp bouncer, which hit my shoulder and there was a massive appeal. The last ball I just left. I bowled really well the whole tour but didn’t get many wickets. We had some drinks with the South Africans at the end of the series and Jacques Kallis asked if he could have a word. He said, ‘You deserved more from this series, you’ve been England’s best bowler. Don’t get disheartened’. I was like, ‘Thanks very much!’ I didn’t know what to say, hearing that from a legend like Kallis.

Injury woe

I was just warming up [on England’s 2010 tour of Bangladesh], hitting some balls in the nets, and I bent down to pick up the ball and my back was really, really tight. I remember thinking, ‘I’m in a bit of trouble here’. I kept it to myself but the next morning I could barely move. I missed the whole of that summer and got told in September that I needed an operation. I’d worked so hard to get my central contract and to play for England and from what seemed like nothing I lost everything. I had to start again from scratch.

Fighting back

4-88 | England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Edgbaston | 2012

I just wanted to play one more game for England, to prove that I could do it. This was like my second debut. I always got told, ‘You’ve got to expect that you’re not going to be as good as you used to be’ but I did it and felt I had really accomplished something.

The nine-fer

9-67 & 1-58 | Nottinghamshire v Durham, County Championship, Trent Bridge | 2012

I got told on the morning of the Lord’s Test that they were going to go with Tim Bresnan. I couldn’t help myself. I said to Andy Flower, ‘How come I never get picked?’ He said, ‘Just keeping taking wickets and you’ll get in the side’. I’d heard that so many times. I asked if I could go and play for Durham and then got in my car and went straight to Trent Bridge. The lads were walking out to field when I arrived. They couldn’t get the ball out of my hands. When I had eight wickets I was fielding at short fine-leg and Luke Fletcher knocked one down to me. I was really tired but I picked it up and just threw it. I was celebrating the run out and everyone was like, ‘What are you doing? That was your chance to get 10-for!’. Harry Gurney was next man in and I bowled him first ball to finish off with nine.

Ashes snub

73 first-class wickets at 18.93 | 2013

It was always a dream to play an Ashes series in Australia and I was absolutely desperate to get on the plane. If you get in a rhythm in county cricket you just feel unstoppable, and I had a great year. I got a call from Geoff Miller and it was the one time in my career I was actually excited to pick up the phone to a selector. He said, ‘Sorry Graham, you haven’t been selected’. I was like, ‘Geoff, I can’t believe it, I took loads of wickets, what else could I do?’ I spoke to Alastair Cook and he said they were going with a team they felt would get more out of the pitches in Australia. I said, ‘But you’ve not even given me a chance’. Winning the league softened the blow. The manner in which we won it was so good. Good local lads playing in a good team.

First published in 2017

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