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Onions halts England slide

Tail-ender Graham Onions proved his mettle beyond doubt as he blocked the final over to rescue England in the first Test against South Africa at Centurion and also save his partner Paul Collingwood's blushes.

Collingwood decided to call his Durham colleague through for a single with two balls remaining of Morne Morkel's penultimate over.

He was then unable to get back to the striker's end and it therefore fell to Onions to keep out Makhaya Ntini's last over of a dramatic drawn game.

But the man nicknamed ‘Bunny' — a pun on his surname rather than a reference to his batting abilities — rose to the occasion, leaving Collingwood to reflect: “All's well that ends well!”

After England had clung on at 228 for nine, he added: “I was hoping I was going to get a single off the last two balls (of Morkel's over).

“I was thinking ‘I must face as many balls as I can' but I couldn't get back to the other end.

“When he was stuck down there I was saying 'Please don't get out, don't get out, it will be my fault again'.

“I know 'Bunny' can hold a bat so he's certainly capable of keeping a ball out. But it's a massive pressure situation.

“But he stayed very calm, played straight and saw it through.”

Collingwood did all he could, with some well-chosen advice and a little humour, to talk his partner through.

“He keeps bragging that he's got the best bat in the dressing room,” Collingwood added. “So I kept shouting down ‘Remember you've got the best bat, just keep using it'.

“I was trying to keep him as relaxed as possible because sometimes you can over-complicate things and the nervousness can overtake you.

“There was one that scuttled along the floor and he watched it really well. Once he'd done that I thought ‘He's going to see through this over'. It was a great effort.”

Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott's 145-run partnership seemed to have steered England to safety in notional pursuit of 364 to win, only for five wickets to fall in 11 overs against the second new ball as Test debutant Friedel de Wet (four for 55) upped the ante.

England captain Andrew Strauss was also full of praise for Onions but wished his heroics had not been needed.

Asked whether he was confident Onions would be up to the task as he walked out to bat with 19 balls remaining, Strauss admitted: “I think hopeful would be the right word.

“I know he's got a reasonable technique but in those circumstances you don't want the ball that scuttles along the ground or nips back at you.

“You need a little bit of fortune and you need the player himself to stay composed, switched on and on the ball.

“He did that all exceptionally well. I hate it when number 11 batsmen have to get us out of jail. It's not their job to do that but it says a lot for the individual.”

The whole experience had echoes of England's nail-biting survival in last summer's first Ashes Test at Cardiff.

England went on to win that series, now they are hoping lightning will strike twice.

Belfast Telegraph

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