Some people have a golden arm – or a good scriptwriter. Back surgery slowed Ian Botham down, but he still took a wicket with his first ball on his England comeback, and Graham Onions’ return to action was almost as dreamlike.
Uncertain six months ago whether he would ever bowl again, his second ball for Durham against Yorkshire at Headingley was, in his own words, “a bit of a long hop”. Botham snared many a batsman with such deliveries and this one was whipped from off stump by Adam Lyth straight into the hands of Ben Stokes, just in front of square leg.
The pioneering surgery which has left a titanium pin in Onions’ back is said to have left him stronger. His pace is clearly unimpaired, and both his accuracy and movement as he went on to take five wickets belied his 15-month absence.
His figures of five for 53 would have been even better but for eight no-balls, which provided the only sign of rust.
While thanking all and sundry, from the ECB to family and friends, for getting him back on track, Onions also thanked Lyth for the early gift.
“To get that new ball in my hand again and run in and take a wicket second ball was fantastic,” he said. “The really tough thing for me has been the mental side, wondering whether I could ever compete at the highest level again. But this has put a massive smile on my face. I can be a bit grumpy on the field, but I’m a happy man now.”
Yet Onions seemed to use up all his luck in his opening six-over spell with Lyth’s dismissal. He could not believe it when umpire Steve O’Shaughnessy turned down an impassioned lbw appeal with Anthony McGrath on nought and Joe Root also looked plumb in front to one of the no-balls.
It was Onions’ second spell after lunch which undermined Yorkshire as he took the first three wickets in their collapse from 100 for two to 149 all out. Again he was handed his second wicket as Yorkshire skipper Andrew Gale tried to hit him over the top and skied a catch to mid-on.
The rest of the wickets were earned. Late in-swing pinned Jonny Bairstow lbw and then a ball which pitched on off stump and moved away had the impressive Root brilliantly caught by debutant wicketkeeper Michael Richardson.
Onions was rested after five overs in his second spell, but returned to have Steve Patterson caught behind off a ball which bounced steeply.
“This is a massive step in my rehabilitation,” he said. “I feel fit and strong and of course I’d love to play for England again. But there are some world-class performers ahead of me now in Steve Finn, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad. I’ve got to keep working hard and I want to repay the faith Durham have shown in me.”