Over­ton the scrap­per called to the front line for char­ac­ter as much as skill

Bowler has shown he is not a player to shirk a chal­lenge, writes Tim Wig­more at Old Traf­ford

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport / Fourth Specsavers Ashes Test -

For an Eng­land crick­eter, there is nowhere more bru­tal to make a Test de­but than an away Ashes se­ries with your team al­ready trail­ing. The tenac­ity that Craig Over­ton showed when thrust into this sit­u­a­tion two years ago – ef­fec­tively re­plac­ing Ben Stokes – made a greater im­pres­sion than the six wick­ets he took in two Tests be­fore suc­cumb­ing to a rib in­jury.

And so, with the 2019 Ashes locked at 1-1, Eng­land have turned to Over­ton once again, even though he has not played a Test since his third in New Zealand 18 months ago.

Over­ton has been se­lected on char­ac­ter as much as cricket. While Eng­land were thrashed in all three of his Tests, this is no com­ment on the ob­du­racy or com­bat­ive­ness he showed. In­deed, twice in six Test in­nings Over­ton has top scored from No 9 – 41 not out on de­but in Ade­laide, when he came in at 142 for seven; and 33 not out in Auck­land, when he ar­rived at 23 for seven, which soon be­came 27 for nine. And his first Test wicket was Steve Smith, play­ing on

to a de­liv­ery bowled from wide of the crease.

Over­ton’s gifts on the field are less se­duc­tive than those of his twin brother, Jamie, who bowls faster and hits the ball fur­ther. Yet Craig’s strength of char­ac­ter should not ob­scure the crick­et­ing skills that ex­plain a first-class bowl­ing av­er­age of 25, and which stands at just 21 in Di­vi­sion One of the County Cham­pi­onship this year. While he is far from ex­press, de­liv­er­ing at a lit­tle over 80mph, he gen­er­ates awk­ward bounce from his 6ft 5in frame. His wide tra­jec­tory, too, can create dif­fi­cult an­gles, and he gen­er­ates con­sis­tent swing with the new ball.

These qual­i­ties are being mar­ried to ever-greater re­li­a­bil­ity. In cham­pi­onship cricket this sum­mer, Over­ton is yield­ing runs at only 2.79 an over; such par­si­mony will be es­sen­tial in a low-scor­ing se­ries. Over­ton has the stamina of a crick­eter forged bowl­ing up­hill and into the wind, for West Buck­land School and North Devon: on Test de­but, he de­liv­ered 33 overs in the first in­nings, more than any other mem­ber of Eng­land’s at­tack.

Cru­cially, Over­ton can also gen­er­ate re­verse swing. Old Traf­ford is renowned for tak­ing re­verse swing – even if it is sel­dom as prodi­gious as when Si­mon Jones tore open Aus­tralia’s bat­ting here in 2005 – and, with his bounce and an­gle from wide of the crease, even a lit­tle re­verse swing can make Over­ton po­tent. This, com­bined with Old Traf­ford’s bounce, ex­plains why he has leapfrogge­d Sam Cur­ran as Chris Woakes’s re­place­ment.

Just like his bowl­ing, the worth of Over­ton’s bat­ting is most likely to be found in sup­port­ing his team-mates. A first-class av­er­age of 22 is 13 less than that of Woakes, the man he will re­place at No8. But the way that Over­ton played the short ball from Pat Cum­mins and com­pany in Ade­laide, when he sur­vived un­de­feated for 79 balls, sug­gested a tech­nique that can with­stand bounc­ers.

Add these qual­i­ties to­gether and Over­ton may just spy a chance to es­tab­lish him­self as the Liam Plun­kett of the Test side. Both are eas­ily un­der­es­ti­mated. Like Plun­kett in one-day cricket, Over­ton is a bowler who will never shirk a chal­lenge.

In Amer­i­can sports, they are called “role play­ers”: those who, with their de­pend­abil­ity, self­less­ness and adapt­abil­ity, pro­vide glue be­tween the other tal­ents and, in do­ing so, make their team stronger. As Eng­land at­tempt to lessen the gap be­tween their worst days and best, they need more play­ers of this ilk. Over­ton can mark him­self out as Eng­land’s role player at Old Traf­ford – and, he will hope, far be­yond.

Tak­ing one for the team: Craig Over­ton af­ter being felled at Ade­laide in 2017

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