INTERNATIONAL cricket is a merciless, unforgiving environment that stands still for no one, and nowhere is that better illustrated than the career of Graham Onions.
England’s forgotten man will take his most significant step yet towards reclaiming his Test place today when he turns out for the Lions in a four-day tour match against Sri Lanka at Derby.
Onions admits merely donning a tracksuit emblazoned with the Three Lions represents a worthy reward for the hours of gruelling rehabilitation he has undertaken since he last represented his country in South Africa15 months ago.
Despite that feeling of satisfaction the 28-year-old, who claims to be fully recovered from the back surgery that cost him a significant chunk of a career that was very much in the ascendancy, is acutely aware that much has changed in the England set-up since he was helping to win an Ashes series on the back of his classical away swing bowling and salvaging a draw in South Africa thanks to his rearguard action with the bat.
While Onions was contemplating the consequences of a potentially career ending injury, England were winning on Australian soil for the first time in 24 years with a revamped attack.
Several members of that successful touring party, Ajmal Shahzad and Steven Finn, will line-up alongside Onions today, and Chris Woakes may have done so were it not for injury.
Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan have also jumped ahead of Onions (right) in the queue and the Durham quick concedes his path back into the England team will be far from straightforward.
“My aspirations have never changed. I’d like to think I’m good enough to play cricket for England,” said Onions, who has taken 14 wickets in his three first class matches this season. “It’s been bitterly disappointing that I’ve done some good things and yet I had to watch my place in the England side slip away.
“I look forward to challenging Steven Finn, Shahzad, Tremlett these guys that are ahead of me. The way I see it now is a really big, tough challenge to get back into this England side. After the injury I didn’t expect to be in this position and I’ll be trying my hardest to get back in whether that’s going to be next week or towards the end of the season.”
Onions admits there were some dark periods on his road to recovery and credits the England’s team psychologist Mark Bawden with ensuring he wasn’t swallowed up by feelings of self doubt and depression.
Healthy mentally, Onions also insists he is physically up to the rigours of five-day cricket and despite major surgery on his back and knee there’s been no enforced alteration in his action, just a change in his on-field demeanour.
“I think if you’re lucky you might see a smile on my face,” he said. “Despite being out of the game I’m a grumpy fast bowler. I’m sure that my body will stand up to the demands and it’s a fantastic chance for me to remind people that I’m a good bowler.
“It’s a great feeling to be sat here wearing an England tracksuit and have a chance to play against a very good Sri Lankan Test side.”