If anger is­sues are checked, Overton can star for tourists

Tall and ac­cu­rate fast bowler can shine in first Test but must not re­peat ugly in­ci­dent at Sus­sex

The Guardian - Sport - - Cricket Ashes Countdown - Vic Marks

Amid the hurly-burly and hot air that ac­com­pa­nies the weeks be­fore the Bris­bane Test Eng­land have en­coun­tered some gen­uine prob­lems. Ben Stokes is still in the north­ern hemi­sphere and likely to re­main there; Steven Finn be­came the late re­place­ment who de­parted early with a knee prob­lem; Jake Ball twisted an an­kle in Ade­laide; young fast bowlers like Tom Cur­ran and Ge­orge Gar­ton have been sum­moned from afar. But there may be a ben­e­fi­ciary from all these set­backs and that is Som­er­set’s Craig Overton.

Overton was se­lected in the orig­i­nal tour party ahead of Finn but the as­sump­tion was that he would be there as the rookie, to learn, to im­prove and pos­si­bly to play a Test or two later in the se­ries. When Stokes was side­lined the door was ajar; there was the chance he could squeeze into the team as the fourth seamer, partly be­cause of his bat­ting prow­ess. Now, af­ter the in­juries to Finn and Ball, that door is wide open. Overton is on course to play in Bris­bane.

So he may have to re­ceive more at­ten­tion from the Aussies. From Townsville on­wards they may seek to un­der­mine the new boy’s con­fi­dence. “Bat­ting prow­ess? He got a pair in the last match.” They could even dredge up the fa­mous slur di­rected at Mark Waugh all those years ago – “He’s not even the best crick­eter in his fam­ily.” It is true that twin brother Jamie is a quicker bowler with great po­ten­tial but the stats demon­strate that the se­nior Overton, by a few min­utes, is cur­rently the bet­ter bet – and less hin­dered by in­jury.

There will be at least one Aus­tralian wish­ing Overton well while still hop­ing for a home vic­tory at the Gabba. Chris Rogers, the for­mer Test opener, knew the Over­tons long be­fore he was their cap­tain at Som­er­set in 2016. Rogers played for North Devon CC at In­stow, an idyl­lic coastal venue if the wind is not blow­ing, when the twins were in shorts and their fa­ther was in the team.

The Over­tons are proud Devo­ni­ans. They went to West Buck­land School near Barn­sta­ple, like one of Som­er­set’s tragic heroes of the past, Harold Gim­blett. They pro­gressed through the Devon youth sys­tem and on to the Som­er­set Academy. Apart from the in­evitable stress frac­tures along the way there was never much doubt they would be­come huge as­sets for the club.

The twins are just about iden­ti­cal. When the South African coach Dave Nos­wor­thy came to Som­er­set he ad­mit­ted he could never tell them apart un­til he saw them bowl­ing. Craig does not run quite so far as Jamie, the process is slightly less fran­tic and there is not the same head­long pur­suit of pace. He can swing the ball away; tak­ing ad­van­tage of his height (both are 6ft 5in) he can hit the shoul­der of the bat more of­ten than most and is more ac­cu­rate than his brother. Craig has al­ready been se­lected for Eng­land white-ball squads with­out ever play­ing – there was much mum­bling and grum­bling at Taun­ton this sum­mer when he was omit­ted from the T20 match there against South Africa. In fact he is cur­rently a much bet­ter red-ball bowler.

There have been set­backs. The most trou­bling stemmed from an in­ci­dent at Sus­sex in 2015 when Overton abused Ashar Zaidi. He was banned for two matches. At the time this might have been re­garded as the naive out­burst of a young fire­brand – for the Over­tons have al­ways been com­bat­ive crick­eters. Then talk­ing to um­pires it be­came ap­par­ent that Overton’s be­hav­iour on

Overton’s be­hav­iour was too of­ten near the edge and self-de­struc­tive

the field was too of­ten near the edge and ul­ti­mately self-de­struc­tive. Any sane bowler seeks to nur­ture a good rap­port with the um­pires.

Matthew May­nard, then the coach at Som­er­set, ac­knowl­edged there was more to this than over-ex­u­ber­ance. There were real anger is­sues and ex­pert guid­ance was sought. It is to the credit of both May­nard and Overton that they recog­nised a prob­lem, ad­dressed it and it seems to have been re­solved.

In 2017 Overton, with Jack Leach, was a key con­trib­u­tor to Som­er­set’s sur­vival in the first di­vi­sion. How­ever his all-rounder sta­tus waned – with a high­est score of 46 in the Cham­pi­onship and an av­er­age in the teens. He can bat, de­spite what they think in Ade­laide. He is a nat­u­ral striker of the ball but he is not yet good enough to at­tempt long Test match style in­nings. So if he plays at the Gabba he should stick with what has worked in the past: to be mean with the ball and ag­gres­sive with the bat. And if he suc­ceeds ex­pect Rogers to be one of the first to con­grat­u­late him, al­beit with a care­fully dis­guised whis­per.

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