Oh Craig O

Craig Overton has for me cemented his place as one of the finest fast bowlers in the history of Somerset County Cricket Club

Leicestershire v Somerset, County Championship Group 2, April 22nd to 26th 2021, Grace Road, Leicester Somerset 318 (Abell 88, Davies 59) and 118-1 (Lammonby 70*) beat Leicestershire 233 (Overton 3-39) and 199 (Overton 5-25) by 9 wickets

I’ve wanted to write this since September last year. Craig Overton’s performance at Leicester over the last three days give me the chance to do so. 

Craig Overton is one of the finest bowlers in the history of Somerset County Cricket Club. 

There are those that will accuse me of hyperbole. Let them. In my lifetime I believe there are only two other Somerset quick bowlers who could have produced a performance equivalent to Craig’s in the second innings at Leicester. 

Joel Garner and Andy Caddick could have both conjured something out of that surface in Leicester, a performance of sustained menace and hostility on a pitch that was on the whole lifeless. For me this will go down as one of the finest bowling performances of Craig’s career so far and needs to be celebrated as such. 

Consider the following second innings bowling figures:

Overton 18-10-25-5

Davey, Gregory and de Lange 31.4-5-120-2

Leicestershire 17-4-71-1

Overton took a wicket every 3 and a half overs at an average of 5. The rest a wicket every 18 overs at an average of 64. Those figure show how difficult a surface this was for the quicks to extract any reward, but somehow Overton was able to make it look like Perth as he bowled his side to the win.

One of the hallmarks of great fast bowlers is that can sustain their pace and hostility through a long spell. Another is that they can be as dangerous in their second and third spells as they were in their first. Craig ticked both boxes on the third day if this Championship games as he regularly does. 

I was fortunate to watch the majority of Joel Garner’s Somerset career live. He was genuinely terrifying and utterly hypnotic. You couldn’t take your eyes off the action when he was bowling. Overton is a different type if bowler more muscular aggression to Garner’s stealthy assassin but no less captivating for it. Anthony Gibson’s description of the older twin a the perfect way of explaining him to anyone unfortunate enough not to have seen him bowl. “6ft 5 ins of pure Devon beef”.

Overton struck with the first ball of day three removing Patel ago edge a quick lifting delivery outside off stump to James Hildreth at first slip. No gentle loosener here, right on it from ball one for the leader of Somerset’s attack. 

While there were no further breakthroughs in the North Devonian’s first spell of the day it was one of frugality menace and aggression. When Marchant de Lange replaced Craig, try as he might the South African could not get close to Overton’s levels try as he might.

Somerset could only take one more wicket in the morning. A sharp slip catch by Lewis Gregory off Jack Leach by which time Leicestershire had avoided the innings defeat. 

But for the beleaguered home side that was the high water mark.of their second innings. Lunch in the Leicestershire dressing room would have had a large shadow cast over it by the thought of another Overton spell after lunch. It looked like a long afternoon for Somerset’s bowlers and a potentially difficult challenge for the batsmen in the final innings.

Tom Abell, who was spot on tactically throughout the day started the afternoon session with the perfect combination of Overton and Leach and between them they bowled Somerset to their objective. Further evidence of Craig’s qualities in this spell, if it was needed, was his stamina and control while bowling in tandem with Leach who gets through his overs so quickly. 

Overton deserved a 10-wicket haul in the match finished with “only 8” as Leach and de Lange wrapped the hosts innings up in mid-afternoon. 

A target of 116 on this docile Grace Road surface should not have been a problem. A 10-wicket win would have been the perfect conclusion given the top order travails so far this season. It was not to be with Tom.Banton being bowled by an absolute beauty for just 8 with the total on 10. 

But the other two Tom’s saw their side home. Lammonby, after an understandably edgy start, blossomed quickly into the elegant prodigy we all saw last season. His 70 not.out was an innings that should have brought joy to every Somerset heart.

At the other end Abell, while not at his fluent best, kept his young partner company, happy to play the supporting role and finishing unbeaten on 35. I may be reading too much into it but I sensed that Abell was trying to score as few as possible to five his namesake the opportunity to accumulate as many as possible.  Knowing what a great leader he is it would not surprise me if he had committed to such a strategy. Abell’s match contribution of 123 for once out was a cornerstone of this victory. 

But this was a Somerset victory delivered by North Devon’s finest. Craig Overton is the premier quick bowler in the County Championship at the moment and deserves every word of praise written about him. He should play for England. He is worthy of further international recognition. And no one would deny him that chance.  But a little bit of me wants him to keep doing what he is doing for Somerset for the rest of this season (and many many more).