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Overtons channel sibling rivalry to Somerset’s advantage

Brothers FacebookTogether the Overton twins dominated the third day of last week’s Championship game against Yorkshire, while separately both have had individual moments of glory so far this season. Jeremy Blackmore takes a look back over the brother’s careers to date and finds two cricketers who have really started to come of age.

Neither Craig nor Jamie Overton have been short of admirers since they first entered the consciousness of the cricket-watching public in their teens.

Both twins are special talents and both have made crucial contributions for Somerset, earning call-ups to various England development programmes. But injuries have restricted the occasions they have appeared in the same side, leaving fans to only imagine what a team containing a pair of fit and in-form brothers could do for Somerset’s fortunes.

Last week a half-term holiday crowd at Taunton got a mouth-watering glimpse of that future as they watched the 21-year-olds dominate the third day of the LV=Championship match against reigning county champions Yorkshire.

Those hoping to see the brothers bowling in tandem got their wish as the pair bowled an excellent spell after tea with Craig taking three key wickets, getting the ball to reverse in dry conditions, while Jamie bowled a tight, hostile spell to keep the pressure on at the other end.

Perhaps more crucially in the context of the game, the twins played a big role with the bat, sharing in a tenth-wicket stand of 76 to give Somerset a slender 47-run lead and put Yorkshire on the back foot as they began their second innings.

They came together before Somerset had achieved parity with Yorkshire’s first innings 438. But in just under half an hour before lunch, the pair completely transformed the state of the game, striking 76 runs from only 5.5 overs.

The hitting was remarkable. Sibling rivalry channelled into some of the most exciting strokeplay; anything you can hit, I can hit harder. Craig took four consecutive boundaries off one over from Steven Patterson to take Somerset into the lead before Jamie hit 4 fours of his own off the next over from Adil Rashid, during which the 50 partnership came up off 25 balls.

Jamie hit two enormous sixes off the next over from the Yorkshire spinner, one over mid-wicket and the other over the Trescothick Stand into the River Tone to bring up his 50 off 18 balls with 7 fours and 3 sixes. He finally fell, next ball, to a catch at slip. It was the quickest half-century by a number 11 batsman in first-class cricket since the number of balls were recorded in 1983.

Craig meanwhile, finished with a barely more sedate 31* off 25 balls. In 29 minutes together, the brothers had advanced the score from 409-9 to 485 all out.Overtons tweet press

Maybe they were also making up for lost time. This was the first time the pair had been able to appear together in the same match this season.

And indeed their fortunes have ebbed and flowed at opposite times for much of their short professional careers.

Craig, the older of the two by three minutes, lost the majority of his 2013 season to injury, and had to watch Jamie rise to prominence and critical acclaim, earning a call-up to the England squad for the ODI series against Australia, aged just 19 with only 13 List A games to his credit. Although Jamie did not play, he was selected for the Lions tour to Sri Lanka but then had to pull out due to a knee injury.

Craig forced his way back into the Somerset first XI in 2014 and was a regular feature throughout the season, winning a call-up for the Lions tri-series in August and then a place on the tour to South Africa in the winter. Jamie meanwhile, on his return from injury, found himself out of form and out of the first XI, playing for the seconds and for his club side in North Devon as he sought to lose the waywardness that had crept into his bowling, but without compromising any of his raw pace which made him so exciting a prospect.

In January this year, Craig returned home early from the Lions tour following the reoccurrence of an old ankle injury and quickly underwent surgery before starting a period of recovery. Jamie meanwhile, started the season for Somerset, but was forced to pull out mid-way through the Championship match with Middlesex with a sore heel. It seemed fate would again deny us the chance to see the brothers in action together.

Craig Overton took six wickets and hit a magnificent 55 off just 31 balls
Craig Overton took six wickets and hit a magnificent 55 off just 31 balls in the game against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge

Craig announced he was back with a vengeance in the game against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in mid-May, playing a pivotal part in Somerset’s first Championship victory of the season with both bat and ball.

His belligerent 55 off just 31 balls under overcast skies on a green surface helped Somerset post 312, which proved decisive in the conditions.

He displayed a full range of shots, hitting the ball upishly through cover point, unfurling some classic cover drives, clipping the ball of his legs and bringing up his half-century off just 28 balls with a hook shot for his tenth boundary.

Craig had started to earn as many plaudits in 2014 for his batting as for his bowling, and while he personally picked out his five-fer against Durham at Taunton as his personal highlight, innings of 99 against Lancashire and 86 against Sussex showed he was developing into a true all-rounder in the Botham tradition.

However, if not at quite the same speed as his brother, Craig has proved an effective force with the ball. Bowling with real pace and accuracy, he took six wickets at key times in the victory at Trent Bridge. His spell late on the second evening dragged Somerset back in the game and changed the face of the match, much as his batting had on day one. He finished that evening with impressive figures of 12-5-27-3 and had left an indelible mark on the match which allowed Somerset to press home the advantage on day three, effectively kick-starting their season after losing their opening three matches.

Craig revealed that his early return through injury from the Lions’ tour winter had turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Had he not gone on the trip, he said, the injury would not have been noticed and he would have ended up missing half of the English domestic season instead, denting any immediate hopes of being re-selected as part of an England squad.

Overton said: “Obviously it was disappointing, but looking at it in a good way, we wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t gone away.

“So the fact that I went away and bowled, meant that I could come back early and get it sorted ready for the season, rather than miss half the summer. Then I probably wouldn’t have a chance next winter [with England], so it worked in a good way, so we’re quite happy with that.

“My ankle’s all fine now. Obviously there’s still a bit of scar tissue there, but I’m feeling confident with it. I just need to get back bowling, get a bit of rhythm and I’ll be pretty happy.”

Jamie spent the winter with the England Performance Programme along with fellow Somerset fast bowler Lewis Gregory
Jamie spent the winter with the England Performance Programme along with fellow Somerset fast bowler Lewis Gregory

Meanwhile spending last summer out of the game, working with coaches Andy Hurry and Jason Kerr seems to have paid dividends for Jamie, along with a spell with the England Performance Programme over the winter.

So far this season in limited outings in four-day cricket he has shown real signs of being able to combine his pace with the accuracy that so eluded him last summer.

He seized back the initiative for Somerset in dramatic fashion on day two of the Championship encounter with Middlesex at Taunton in late April. Bowling short spells in an extended final session, Jamie proved the key difference between the two sides, taking three wickets for 42 to help regain control for his side after an attritional afternoon’s cricket in which Middlesex found runs increasingly easy to come by.

Jamie Overton was back in action today. Photo:AlexanderDavidson
Jamie Overton has generated significant pace in spells for Somerset this season. Photo:AlexanderDavidson

At times Overton was genuinely unplayable, generating significant pace and getting the ball to shape away.  He immediately troubled Nick Gubbins who had looked set to reach what would have been his maiden first-class century. The six-foot left hander was forced to duck and weave and at one point found himself forced onto the ground on his haunches.

While he’s still not quite the finished article – few are at 21 – that evening Jamie got it just about perfect. Most of his bouncers were extremely well directed and it was no surprise when he ultimately found the shoulder of Gubbins’ bat with an absolute snorter of a delivery to have him caught at slip. Given the new ball, he bowled John Simpson and then two balls later one of Ollie Rayner’s stumps was sent cartwheeling out of the ground as he fell without scoring.

After a difficult 2014 where he was plagued by injury and poor form, it was heartening and genuinely thrilling to see him bowling like this. Clearly the plan is to deploy him in short bursts this summer and as such he can be a really potent weapon for Somerset.

Fellow fast-bowler Lewis Gregory, who shared the second new ball with Overton, said afterwards: “It was seriously impressive to watch someone bowling that quick, with that shape that he’s got as well.

“Jamie’s a serious talent and when he hits his straps he’s sometimes unplayable and brilliant to watch. I’m really pleased for him and where he’s come from last year, it’s a huge step forward, so hopefully he can hang onto that and keep developing.”

Gregory added: “He can blow through teams. When you get a guy in your team who can bowl 90mph plus and shape it away, if he hits his areas, it’s impossible to play and towards the end there it was something special and hopefully he can continue to do that for the rest of the summer.”

Craig Overton was rejuvenated with the ball today. Somerset will need runs from him tomorrow if they are to chase their target.
Craig Overton was delighted after the twins’ best day in the Somerset side together.

Speaking after day three of the game with Yorkshire last week, the delighted Overton twins talked about what they reckoned was their best day in the Somerset side together.

Jamie said: “Yes it was nice to have a bit of fun out there and to have Craig out there with me helped play, so it was nice to get some runs with him.”

Craig said: “I wasn’t surprised to see Jamie hitting it to all parts [he has scored centuries in club cricket batting in the top order]. I asked Jamie what he was going to play and he said he’s going to have a go from the start. I know what he can do when it’s like that and it showed today. He struck it cleanly and played sensible shots and got us into a good position.

“It’s great to be batting with him because when he gets going so do I and he got a lot of runs in a short space of time as well.

“Normally when you go at a run a ball you are doing well but he was going at a lot more than me, but that is just the way it happens and I am happy be able to contribute with the bat.”

Talking about his bowling Jamie said: “I gave Craig good support in the final session and I am getting back to where I was, even though I get a bit sore occasionally. It is going in the right direction and building pressure gets wickets. He managed to get the wickets and I didn’t but that’s the way it is and as long as we get wickets that’s what is crucial to the team.”

With Trescothick expertly rotating his men and using the twins in short sharp bursts and Matt Maynard rotating his strike bowlers throughout the summer, the policy at Somerset is to ensure their Overtons and their fellow Devonian Lewis Gregory stay fit for the duration of the English summer.

So while the Overtons may not play together in every match, importantly both are emerging as more mature, well-rounded cricketers in their own right, able to stamp their authority on a game and make it count.

But clearly some friendly brotherly rivalry goes a long way too.