Sixteen months ago Craig Overton fulfilled a boyhood dream when he stepped out onto the pitch at the Adelaide Oval to face Australia in an Ashes test, thereby becoming the 681st player to be capped by England. He made an immediate impact taking three wickets in the Aussie’s first innings – his first being the prize scalp of Captain Steve Smith – and followed it up with an unbeaten 41 which saw him become the first England debutant for 118 years to top score batting at number 9.
The young lad from Barnstaple – who was just 23 at the time – was under immense pressure as he strode out to bat with his team 142 for seven, some 300 runs behind. He had failed to score in three innings’ in the warm-up matches and the Australian fielders were quick to remind him of this. And were very brutal about it. But his performance that day showed immense character and a growing maturity in the face of hostility from the opposition and a large baying crowd.
With Chris Woakes he added 66 in 99 balls but their combined efforts could not stop a 120-run defeat, but Craig had made a positive start to his Test career. He was now playing to a world audience.
And this was no more than he deserved after he became Somerset’s senior and primary pace bowler in the 2016 season. When his team needed him to step up he duly obliged taking 46 first-class wickets at 22.39 as Somerset narrowly missed out on a first Championship title.
So what does Craig remember about that test debut on December 2, 2017?
“You walk out at Adelaide and there’s this massive stand – it’s not like any ground in England, as the Aussie grounds are football grounds with stumps and bails in the middle – and it’s surreal as there’s 70,000 Aussies booing you constantly. You try to block out everything that’s going on around you but that’s difficult because – equally – it’s your first game, and you’re also trying to take it all in.
“There’s no comparison to here – the closest you get is maybe Lords or The Oval on a T20 night – but even that is nowhere near.”
Since those three Ashes tests, in which Craig scored 98 runs at 24.5, and took 7 wickets, he has played in one ODI at Chester-le-Street where England crushed the Aussies by six wickets but he has not featured since, but his ambitions of playing for England remain strong and he remains positive.
“It’s been a special 18 months…I haven’t quite made it into the squad since then but I am more driven than ever to get back in.
“It’s been frustrating but, likewise, it’s been nice to spend some time at home getting a few things sorted with the bowling action to make sure I’m ready for the start of summer. And working on my batting to make sure I am scoring runs for Somerset and, who knows, maybe for England.
“I don’t think I am that far away – there’s obviously a few people ahead of me at the minute – but you’re never totally sure with selection because, there maybe 2-3 injuries at the start of summer but they can rush back in. So for me it’s not about worrying about who else is available and what might happen in six months’ time or one years’ time or in the Ashes, it’s about making sure I perform here day in and day out and showing what I can do and ensuring that, if I do get called up, I am ready for that chance. And if I take wickets and am scoring runs for Somerset then I may get that call and will be ready.”
Heading into season 2019 the club are boosted by the signing of Jack Brooks who compliments an already impressive pace attack that includes Craig, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, Jamie Overton, Josh Davey and Paul van Meekeren. So does being a part of such a talented group add or remove pressure for Craig?
“I see myself as the leading bowler for Somerset – and I’m sure Lewis does as well and potentially so will Brooksy – so I put pressure on myself to make things happen when need be.
“I know Abes has his bowlers to go to when a situation dictates and he wants to make things happen, and I want to be the one he goes to. But the thing about our unit is that we can all do a job and you definitely don’t want a situation when you are calling on the same person time and again. If that is the case than that player won’t be fit come August and September.
“We have a tight unit here and everyone is aware of what to do when needed and can take the lead which is the advantage of having such a good group of bowlers.”
One frustration for Craig is the reduced game time in the 20-over format. Just two years ago he was out of the T20 team under Matt Maynard and last season he played just three games, taking as many wickets in the 9.1 overs he bowled. A reluctant spectator among the big crowds at Taunton he is, however, pleased to see brother Jamie making his mark as a T20 bowler.
“I want to play in every game for Somerset – and win every game for Somerset – so obviously that is tough for me. But you have to stay with it in case you’re called on when the boys are down.
“T20 cricket is very much a batter’s game, and I find batters win you games more than bowlers these days. And pace alone doesn’t scare batters as they face 99mph bowlers all the time, so you have to bowl out of the batsman’s eyeline, deceive them a bit and give them something to think about.
“That is what Jamie is really good at and what he did well last season. It didn’t quite work out in the semi against Sussex but 20:20 can work like that. You haven’t bowled badly but one or two batters have come off and they score 200 between them.
“Here at Taunton high scores happen all the time so we are constantly bowling as well as we can to keep the score down to give our batsmen a chance to win the game for us. But that’s the sort of cricket we want to be involved in and I am sure the crowd want it too.
“I don’t expect to play every game this year but that is my aim, so we’ll wait and see.”
Having been to Media Day a few times during the past few years, the spirit amongst the players this year seems particularly positive. There were plenty of smiles and mickey-taking but, more importantly, the lads appear fit and focused and ready for the season ahead. After an impressive preseason in Abu Dhabi, and a crushing record-breaking victory against the Cardiff students, where Craig ruthlessly took six second innings’ wickets to finish MCCU off, confidence is high and there is competition for places to play Kent in the opener on Friday. But whoever plays the team are one.
“I know there’s Tres and Hildy but the majority of the group are between 22 and 28 so the core of the team that will be around for 6 or 7 years at least all get on really well as we have all come through the academy together and know each other inside and out.
“And all that goes onto the pitch as we all fight for each other knowing that we won’t dominate every game but we have each other’s back.
“We are fighting for the West Country – Somerset is a family club so we are not just playing for ourselves but our supporters, because the support we get is massive and we are trying to give something back to them.
“We know how much they want to win the championship, and it’s as much as we do.”