(Photo: Getty Images)
By Charlie Talbot-Smith
When Nathan Rimmington was announced as Durham’s new seamer back in October, Graham Onions didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
After all, here was a 35-year-old seamer from Australia, with no previous County Championship experience, being offered a two-year contract at Chester-le-Street.
And yet Onions, the county’s record wicket-taker, who has been a stalwart since his breakthrough all the way back in 2004, was not extended that same deal.
“The club only offered me a one-year deal and I wanted two. I thought I deserved two. My performances and how I bowled throughout the season merited that,” he said.
“I was really disappointed with what they offered but, naturally, I wanted to stay. Eventually, Lancashire gave me an opportunity that I couldn’t really turn down.
“It would have been fantastic to have stayed and ended my career at the county that gave me so many memories and opportunities – but it wasn’t to be.
“Unfortunately, you have got to go with your head. My heart wanted to stay in Durham but for the right reasons – both for cricket reasons and for the long-term future – it was time for a move to what is, let’s be honest, a pretty amazing club.”
Relations soured between Onions and Durham as last year wore on – indeed, the seamer was disappointed that the contract saga clouded his surpassing of Simon Brown’s first-class wicket record of 518.
And eventually, the exit door was left as the only option for Onions as Lancashire came calling.
They offered him the two-year deal he craved – and the chance to expand his post-cricket coaching career.
That means Durham have lost the likes of Onions, Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick inside 18 months.
“I think Durham will have another tough season, if I am being honest – certainly from a bowling point of view,” he added. “They got rid of me because they didn’t want me to sign a two-year deal at the age of 35. But then they have gone and signed a 35-year-old on a two-year deal. That was a bit of a strange one from my point of view.
“I do think the club will struggle for a little while now. There are a few big players that have gone, incredibly good and consistent performers.
“It is a tough situation. They will have to become a bit more professional. They will need a bit more direction from certain leaders from their squad.
“I think they need a bit more from (coach) Jon Lewis to give them that belief and direction. But it is Jon Lewis’ team at the end of the day.
“It is a tricky one. I play for Lancs now but Durham is my club. I have been there for 15 years. I had a benefit year.
“I wouldn’t have played for England if I had not had the opportunities that Durham gave me.
“Naturally, there are certain things that I have been a little bit frustrated with.
“But that is just life. I have had enough setbacks in my time to know that things are not always ideal.
“I would like to think I could go back to Durham, maybe in a few years’ time, and help out in a coaching way.
“I will certainly keep in touch with the lads and help them in any way I can if they want it.”
Back in 2009, Onions suffered a career-threatening back injury, which prompted to him to start planning for life after cricket.
Coaching has always appealed and he is now a Level 4 ECB qualified coach, with ambitions to grow further.
But Onions is on a playing contract at Lancashire, and knows all too well what is expected of him.
“I am not assistant bowling coach or anything like that. I am employed as a player,” he added.
“As far as I am concerned, my job is to take 50 wickets and win games of cricket for Lancashire – simple as that.
“Now, if I am not playing one-day cricket or if I am injured or whatever it might be, then I am going to do as much coaching as I can.
“Lancashire were much more receptive to that idea. Straightaway they have given me opportunities to do that and I would have been silly not to accept it.”
Lancashire finished as runners-up last year in the County Championship and this year, Onions – who won the title three times with Durham – is ready to go one better.
“I am 35, but I am still no different. I look forward to the start of the season. I look forward to seeing who the lads are going to get,” he said.
“I had an inkling who we were going to go for as a bowler in Joe Mennie.
“When I lose that excitement, then it will be time to move on. But I am training hard. I have always been the type of person that I want the captain to throw the ball to me.
“I want to try and make a difference. If they start throwing the ball to a Saqib Mahmood or an overseas player, that is absolutely fine. But I will work hard to get better and make sure that it is me next time.
“One of the reasons why I signed was that they had three or four games last year with seamer-friendly conditions and they just lacked a senior bowler.
“They seemed to think that if I was around, or another senior bowler, that would have made a difference and they would have potentially won the league.
“I just hope I can be a good signing for them.”