Jamie Overton’s T20 World Cup dream hanging by a thread after inconclusive back scan

Jamie Overton's T20 World Cup dream hanging by a thread after inconclusive back scan
Jamie Overton has been tipped to take the place of Ben Stokes in the squad - Getty Images/Ben Hoskins

Jamie Overton’s hopes of becoming England’s big-hitting bolter for June’s T20 World Cup are hanging by a thread due to a back issue.

Surrey’s Overton, who is uncapped in T20 cricket but has played one Test, emerged as a leading contender to make the 15-strong after Ben Stokes withdrew from the tournament to prioritise Test cricket.

All-rounder Overton was the Most Valuable Player in last year’s men’s Hundred (smashing 202 runs at 40.40 and a strike rate of 181.98 to complement his pace bowling) and has become an outstanding performer on the global franchise scene for the likes of Adelaide Strikers.

Overton missed more than four months of cricket last season with a stress fracture of the back, and fears emerged earlier this month that he had another serious back injury. Scans have proved inconclusive, however, and it is understood that he has been prescribed a fortnight of rest before more scans to determine the seriousness of the injury.

It is not impossible, therefore, that he recovers in time to travel to the West Indies, which is hosting the tournament with the USA, in June. But his selection would require a significant leap of faith from England, who are required by the International Cricket Council to submit a provisional 15-man squad by May 1, next week.

England can change the provisional squad before the end of May, but after the debacle ahead of last year’s World Cup when Harry Brook was parachuted into the squad, effectively ending Jason Roy’s international career, they are likely to want to nail their squad at the first time of asking.

England have four T20 internationals at home to Pakistan in May, which will double as a warm-up for the tournament. It is as yet unclear whether every player currently at the Indian Premier League would come home for that series, with England likely to make decisions on an ad hoc basis. All players could be back by the end of that series, but the first two matches clash with the IPL knockouts, which are likely to feature Phil Salt, who is likely to open for England at the World Cup after a brilliant tour of West Indies in December.

Will Jacks also looks likely to make the squad, with Sam Curran, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone also providing all-round options.

Overton provides the balance that T20 sides need

“Our Andre Russell,” Surrey call Jamie Overton. If the comparison is a little unfair, given Russell’s extraordinary Twenty20 career, it is not entirely farfetched.

Only two men with 1,000 T20 runs – Russell, naturally, and New Zealand’s Finn Allen – score them quicker than Overton, who has a strike rate of 167. Last summer, Overton was named as the most valuable player in the Hundred; most spectacularly, he smote 83 not out from 30 balls for Manchester Originals against Northern Superchargers. Such deeds will have led Manchester’s captain, Jos Buttler, to ask whether Overton could have a similar impact for England.

Test cricket fans will know Overton as the 90mph tearaway with a solitary cap, who has been a regular in squads but, through fears about him being too erratic and his chequered injury record, has never been trusted with a run in the side. In that lone Test at Headingley, against New Zealand two years ago, Overton crashed 97 from number eight.

In T20, batting is his most valuable skill. English cricket has long struggled to produce finishers. With 18 teams in the T20 Blast, the best players have gravitated towards the top order, which provides the greatest opportunity to shape a game - and to win recognition for overseas franchise tournaments.

Overton is different: a man who has thrived batting at six in the domestic game, closely replicating his potential role for England, when he was an option to bat at number seven. While his short-format bowling has been far less impressive – he only took three wickets at 38 apiece in the Hundred last year – Overton’s pace would add a new dimension to England’s attack in West Indies. In T20 leagues in Australia and UAE during the winter, Overton got a wicket every 16 balls, showing his prowess taking wickets in the middle of the innings.

It adds up to a package that could have helped England replace Ben Stokes, who won’t feature in the T20 World Cup. Overton and Stokes are not like-for-like players – Stokes bats higher up – but they both provide the essential balance that T20 sides need: seamers who can bat in the top seven. Should Overton indeed be ruled out, Sam Curran will be the only seamer who can fulfil this role. Spin-bowling allrounders are more common, and England have three fine ones: Livingstone, Moeen Ali and Will Jacks.

For England, the 3-2 T20 defeat in West Indies before Christmas was a reminder of the primacy of power in the game in the Caribbean.

Even without Overton, England will not be lacking in six appeal. At this juncture, a top four of Buttler, Phil Salt, Jacks and Jonny Bairstow appears likely. With Harry Brook at five or six, that would leave Curran, Livingstone and Moeen battling for two places as allrounders. Ben Duckett is the likeliest spare batsman, though there are concerns over his six-hitting ability, which could yet make Laurie Evans or Tom Kohler-Cadmore wildcard options.

A fully fit Jofra Archer, as ever would transform England’s prospects. With Adil Rashid locked as first choice spinner, England will then have to consider which of Tom Hartley and Rehan Ahmed to take too. Slow left-arm spinners fare better than wrist spinners on used pitches, as West Indies showed in the decider in December, so Hartley appears the better option.

That leaves the rest of the pace attack to pick. Despite his poor start to the ODI World Cup, Chris Woakes remains a compelling white-ball package, combining new-ball wickets with powerful hitting.

Reece Topley performed well in the Caribbean, while Mark Wood is an obvious like-for-like replacement for Archer, who will still need to be carefully managed if he is picked.

Even aged 35 Chris Jordan, now an increasingly reliable finisher who often bats at seven in franchise cricket, remains an option – especially given the potential to use him as a substitute fielder. Gus Atkinson also offers express pace, giving him a strong chance if one of Archer or Wood does not make it, but floundered during the tour of West Indies.