GRAHAM Onions has warned Durham they must finish the job and clinch a County Championship title that would make up for his Ashes heartache.
Durham went 27.5 points clear at the top of the table after Onions and Chris Rushworth inspired them to a stunning nine-wicket victory at Derbyshire on Saturday.
For more than three days there had been little between the Division One leaders and a Derbyshire side needing victory to help them avoid relegation, but Onions and Rushworth exploited encouraging swing bowling conditions on day four as the hosts were all out for a paltry 63 in 29.1 overs.
The game looked set for a draw after Derbyshire seamer Tony Palladino’s season-best six for 90 limited Durham to a meagre lead of 27, with the home side then reaching 22-1 at lunch.
But Onions produced a spell of five wickets for four runs in 41 balls, and Rushworth claimed 3-31 to leave Durham’s batsmen with a victory target of 37, which they reached in 7.5 overs for the loss of just one wicket to go clear at the top of the table following Yorkshire’s draw at Sussex.
It was the latest in a long line of stunning performances by Onions, taking his wicket haul to 60 from just 10 matches this season, including five times taking five wickets or more in an innings.
Skipper Paul Collingwood – whose record as skipper now reads 13 wins in 20 Championship matches – praised Onions for his strength of character in bouncing back from disappointments such as missing out on a place in England’s Ashes side this summer.
Onions said: “I learned a lot about myself when I was injured for such a long time.
“I learned about mental preparation and getting yourself ready for the tough games you have to expect every time you play.
“You have to push those disappointments to one side and forget about it. If you perform well against good opposition you get recognised. It’s trying to force my way into the side and trying to win things that keeps me going and we are close to winning things.”
A place on the plane to Australia this winter would fulfil his own goal but Onions agreed that a title would bring just as much satisfaction.
“It would be incredible,” he said. “It is hard to put it into words what it would mean.
“There are a lot of very good teams that don’t win championships and the character that the lads keep showing to put in performances and win us games is unbelievable, although we have to remember that we have not won it yet.”
Durham can be crowned champions this week when they host Nottinghamshire, starting tomorrow, if they match Yorkshire’s points tally in their game against Middlesex – or even pick up three fewer points.