Suddenly Craig Overton is no longer one of the dirt‑trackers, the also-rans who get hauled out to play against the youngsters of Cricket Australia in between Ashes Tests. England have a two-day fixture in Perth beginning on Saturday but Overton will not be in action. Instead he will be nursing his bruises while recuperating along with nine of his Test colleagues from Adelaide.
The 10th, Moeen Ali, will, for the first time, captain an England side containing five players from the senior tour party plus six from the Lions, one of whom, Mark Wood, may be clinging on to the distant prospect of a straw‑clutching recall for the third Test at the Waca.
Just before his flight to Perth, Overton admitted to a substantial bruise to his ribcage after being hit there by a rapid delivery from Pat Cummins in the second innings at Adelaide and he did his best to sound old-proish about it. Yet he could not quite disguise a bit of pride about this badge of honour even though he tried to portray his multicoloured body as just another occupational hazard. “It was good fun out there,” he said and the sparkle in his eye after his first Test suggested he was not bluffing. It was even “good fun” facing those bouncers.
Overton made a fine impression on his debut, top-scoring in England’s first innings with 41 not out, taking four wickets as well as an excellent catch. “It’s nice to know I can do well in Test cricket, to pick up a few wickets. And it was really nice to get some runs.” (After all, he had failed to score in his first three innings in Australia.)
As they often say in these parts, he copped some flak out there but he happily saw this as the start of a new adventure. As predicted Overton, as England’s new No9, was greeted by a succession of bouncers. This did not surprise him either but he did acknowledge: “I’ve never faced anything quite like that before in first-class cricket. In county cricket you might come up against one fast bowler but it’s much tougher when there are three.”
Being so tall it is not so easy for Overton to duck or sway but he felt he “played it pretty well”, which is mildly reassuring since he will have some more bouncers if he stays in the team in Perth and beyond. “You have to enjoy it,” he said, an observation in favour of new blood in the team. “And you need to be able to score and to get to the other end. You don’t want to face all six balls of the over.” He was wearing a chest pad when that ball thudded into his ribcage, which left him on his knees at the crease and in considerable pain. “I always wear one‚” he said, “but the ball missed it.”
In county cricket you might come up against one fast bowler but it's much tougher when there are three
Perhaps the pluckiness of his batting and that 66-run partnership with Chris Woakes left the deepest impression but Overton recognises he is in the team for his bowling and maintains a healthy realism about that. “I know I’m not the quickest,” he said. “So I need to maintain my control along with a few variations. I noticed that a bad ball in the Test always gets put away.”
Clearly Overton was still buzzing after his unexpectedly rapid ascent to the Test team and it was uplifting to see that from a young cricketer. But he still managed to revert to old pro talk at the end. “We are not panicking‚” he said. “We’ve shown glimpses of what we can do. We’ve just got to put it together for the whole game. It’s tough but we’re all sticking together.”
One day it is possible the 23‑year‑old will play for England alongside his twin brother, Jamie, who bowls faster and swings harder. In Perth there is the strong possibility Australia may reunite their cricketing brothers, Shaun and Mitchell Marsh, nowthe younger one (Mitchell) has been added to the squad. Mitchell also bowls faster and swings harder than his older brother. So far they have played seven Tests together.
“It’s always special playing for Australia with Shaun,” Mitchell said, “as would playing in the last Test at the Waca. One thing I’ve learnt from Shaun is how he’s solely focused on his own game. There are a lot of distractions outside the inner sanctum.”
Perhaps one day the older Overton (by a few minutes as opposed to eight years in the case of the Marshes) can pass on similar advice to Jamie.
England v Cricket Australia XI at Richardson Park, Perth, Saturday 9.30am: Moeen (capt), Ball, Ballance, Crane, Curran, Duckett, Foakes, Jennings, Lawrence, Leach, Livingstone, Wood.