England all-rounder Jamie Overton at home on Test cricket’s carousel of joy and pain
HEADINGLEY, LEEDS – Ask Test cricketers of all persuasions the unifying aspects of their craft and they are likely to reach pain, suffering and struggle. Jamie Overton is now one of them.
Of course, it looks pretty good to be Jonny Bairstow right now. Everything the England number five touches turns to gold if he hasn’t already slammed it through the covers in the blink of an eye.
But Bairstow hit the form of his life on his 86th Test after a decade at the top level. It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses so far. Far from there.
When the home favorite orchestrated England’s recovery from deep 55/6 in their opening innings on Friday, he had debutant Overton for company. A meaty lower-order hitter, Overton played an integral part in a record seventh wicket for his country.
By the end of day two, he had beaten 12 fours and hit some powerful sixes, including one in a delirious Western Terrace. This Test match cricket lark seemed like a complete hoot.
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Then Saturday morning rolled around and Overton’s time at the crease would have been tortured if Bairstow hadn’t been swaggering towards a majestic 162 at the other end. The quick and versatile bowler hit and moved as if his 6-foot-5 frame had just acquired a new set of limbs. There were obvious nerves and maybe a bit of fatigue as well.
“Not great,” Overton said with a contrite smile when asked how he slept Friday night with a potential century of testing looming on the horizon. “I was tossing and turning a lot. I was always going to be a little nervous, but I felt like I was in a great place this morning.”
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Tim Southee took the day’s lead from Kirkstall Lane End and Overton had an unsightly puff on a short ball. Bairstow then called his partner for a quick two, which meant Overton had to crash into a full dive and broke his protective strap. Add an edge before the second slide and a few plays and misses at Trent Boult and it didn’t look like such a good place anymore.
The brief honeymoon was over and Overton was in love with Test cricket. He had shown us his slog, now it was just a slog. There was another limit through the covers – a false dawn, another currency the sport trades giddily in – and then an advantage taken by Daryl Mitchell off Boult meant he finished 97.
There is no scenario where a first 97 is a failure, especially for a player chosen primarily for his prowess as a bowler. But in that moment, when the air was briefly sucked from a waiting Headingley and Bairstow placed a comforting arm around his teammate, it was certainly like that.
“The ball was there to hit and I just hit it in the wrong place,” Overton said, pleasantly straightforward. “I think you can see it both ways. Obviously I’m thrilled to get 97 in the first place.”
Stuart Broad turned the dial from nervous to nerveless and to smash a quickfire 42 and help England take an invaluable 31-point lead. Then it was Overton’s main task to get the New Zealand batters out.
This proved easier said than done in an afternoon session where batting seemed like an enjoyable pastime, especially for Tom Latham who played Overton, Broad and – in a fairly infuriating stretch of four overs costing 30 runs – captain Ben Stokes failed to hit their lines. or offer a lot of threat.
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Toil and struggle were front and center and familiar ground for a kind of tea heart to heart.
“We didn’t search for a lot of ruins, but it didn’t feel like we had bowled and played the way we wanted to,” Overton said. “Going out after tea, it was just about trying to have fun, putting pressure on New Zealanders and that’s what we did.”
The practical thing about the Test cricket pain equation is that it’s a two-way street. If you don’t suffer from it, you can be the player dealing it. As a commanding presence capable of propelling the ball at speeds of around 90mph, Overton is comfortable in the latter role.
With the first ball of the evening session, he persuaded Latham to fall behind. England sensed an opening and in Overton they had a hammer to work on it. Devon Conway came to the crease and was cracked over the head by an ugly bouncer. The whole atmosphere of the competition had changed.
🗣️ “Right away, RIGHT AWAY.”
Jamie Overton hits his very first ball right after tea ⚡ pic.twitter.com/S57MFXUZv5
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) June 25, 2022
“I like to put my hand up in these kinds of situations where things are quite difficult. I’m given the ball and I try to make the most of it,” he explained. “Obviously it was a feeling great to have that box office and get on the train with everyone.”
The Saturday night weather proved as changeable as the contest, with Conway caught brilliantly by Ollie Pope off Joe Root at short notice on the first ball of the restart. The door Overton had opened was a little more open. By the time the excellent Matty Potts knocked out Kane Williamson for the third time in four innings and Henry Nicholls returned a catch back to Jack Leach, England were running happily.
A raucous crowd reveled in every moment and Overton more than played his part in amplifying them for the second night in a row. He can expect at least a few more games on Test cricket’s irresistible carousel of despair and joy.