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
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.