And how he celebrated by charging in to the stumps with the new ball. He is usually a nagging, accurate seamer but maybe buoyed by his return and with a little more adrenaline pumping through the veins he resembled a quickie yesterday in his opening spell. He was helped, as were all the seamers, by one of the harder surfaces of the summer and one that had been freshened and kept juicily moist by two days of covering, but still a bowler needs to exploit such advantages and Onions did.
Indeed, if England had had a third slip who could catch he would have taken the first wicket of the morning with a beautiful leg-cutter to Adrian Barath but alas, Ian Bell, who does not even field consistently at slip for his county, spilled a simple catch. It was not his only miss of the day in that position either but it is not his fault. He is not a slip fielder, pure and simple. James Anderson would have been there usually and snaffled the edge as if it were coming in slow-motion.
But even then England have a problem because when Anderson is bowling it is Tim Bresnan in the cordon and he is not much better than Bell. For all the £31 million spent on England in the past 12 months, a few more sessions of catching practice for the slips would not go amiss. The situation was compounded in the final session when Andrew Strauss also dropped an easy one at first slip off Steven Finn although not long after he did make amends by catching Darren Sammy. His frustration after taking the catch and look of relief on Finn’s face demonstrated perfectly that England had not been particularly good in the field.
They did take wickets though and without another splendid innings by Marlon Samuels would have dismissed West Indies within the best part of two sessions. Samuels has proved himself consistently this summer to be a high-quality batsman. He has scored runs against an exceptional bowling attack and has done so in some style and often with calamity happening at the other end. It seems he has matured and settled into a simple method where his feet move late but sharply, he waits for the ball to play it late which counters swing and movement off the pitch and he drives exquisitely straight down the ground and through extra cover.
His assault on Graeme Swann was calculated and executed superbly as he lofted him straight back over the bowler’s head and also over long-on. Not surprisingly there was little assistance for Swann as it was effectively a first day pitch, but Samuels’ assault was meant to prevent Strauss using the spinner as a stock bowler to allow the seamers to rotate and keep fresh.
If Assad Fudadin had shown slightly more attacking intent the ploy would have worked but the debutant was content to only linger. The support came mostly from Denesh Ramdin who toiled hard and thoroughly deserved his 60. As well as West Indies fought though in trying conditions, it was clearly evident how much the experience of Shivranine Chanderpaul was missed. The elder statesman had suffered a side injury in the gym earlier in the week but he was not the only senior player missing from the match as England elected to give Stuart Broad a rest as well as James Anderson.
It is surprising that the two main strike bowlers both be rested but it demonstrated the impressive strength in depth available to Andy Flower and Strauss.
Bresnan was combative, tidy and effective which in a few years time will probably be a fitting epithet for his career, Finn was aggressive but disciplined and Onions as persistent and parsimonious as if he had played every Test since 2010.
Many other countries would take any of these as first choice bowlers but for Onions that matters little. He was just pleased to be back.