Craig Overton risked a punctured lung to play his part in the third Ashes Test in Perth – and reckons that withstanding the pain was second nature because of the fast-bowling batterings he took while growing up from his twin brother Jamie.
Overton, one of the few bright spots in another disappointing England campaign, was hit in the ribs while batting in the second innings in Adelaide. While he initially reported little pain and was cleared to play in Perth, he sustained another blow in the same area after he landed heavily as he dived in vain for a caught and bowled chance. Subsequent scans showed a cracked rib.
But rather than sit out the rest of the match, Overton waved away warnings that he could sustain a more serious injury and dug in alongside his fellow bowlers as they struggled through two days in the field against Steve Smith and co.
“Battling through the pain is in my nature,” Overton said. “Growing up as a kid, with Jamie hitting me, it was always a case of ‘Get on with it’ really. You never want to show too much pain.”
The potential of the Overton twins have long excited Somerset cricket followers and, although it was Craig who achieved an England Test cap first, Jamie’s potential, at his best, to bowl a 90mph ball has seen him called up for England squads and encourages the thought that he might one day follow.
“We’re fighters down in Somerset, that’s how we play our cricket,” Overton said. “It was painful, but not too bad. Even though I didn’t bowl that many overs, I could still bowl some that the other boys didn’t have to. That was the aim, just to get through this game really.
“I’ve been brought up to fight through the pain, and I’m not the sort to leave the field for nothing. It would have taken a broken leg or something that prevented me standing to stop me batting to try to save the game. All you can do is dose yourself up and try to get through it.
“But then, just before lunch on the fourth day, I had to leave the field after one dive too many in the deep. The team doctor warned me it could become much worse if I landed the wrong way and I could even puncture a lung. That’s why I was making sure I didn’t dive too much because I was worried it could break properly.”
Overton had assumed that the injury was behind him after Adelaide and England had few, if any, injury concerns about him entering the third Test in Perth.
“It’s a hairline fracture at the minute,” Overton said. “I was hit in Adelaide, but it was fine and in the build-up to the game in Perth I was bowling fine in the nets with no painkillers. We weren’t worried about it.
“Then I went for that caught-and-bowled catch off Usman Khawaja and landed awkwardly on it and we think that’s when I cracked it. But it was only a bit later, when I came back on for a second spell and bowled a bouncer that it really hurt. It caused me massive pain.”
While Overton’s bravery was admirable, it has rendered him a doubt for the fourth Test starting in Melbourne on Boxing Day. He described himself as “a cross between the Michelin Man and a Mummy” when he walked out to bat in the second innings such was the extent of padding he was wearing to prevent further blows to the sore area and rates himself as “unlikely” to appear in Melbourne.
“The draw of playing in that game is absolutely massive,” Overton said. “But I think you’ve also got to be realistic. There’s another game after Melbourne and then the New Zealand Test series as well. So I’ve got to keep my eye on the bigger picture. It’s not just about one game, there’s a lot more to come after this.”
Although Overton is frustrated by the results, he has taken confidence from his ability to compete at this level. Only James Anderson has a lower bowling average among the England bowlers – Overton is taking his wickets at a cost of 37.66 apiece – and both Alastair Cook and Moeen Ali are averaging fewer than his 20.66 per innings.
He accepts, however, that if he is to add some bite to his bowling, it would help if he could increase his pace.
“I’m proud to have shown what I can do,” Overton said. “The confidence of being able to bowl and take wickets at this level is massive. But for me, it’s not about how proud I am as a cricketer, it’s about winning games for England. That’s what hurts: we’re not winning games.
“The pitches out here are generally quite flat and you’ve seen from their bowlers if you have a bit of pace you can still take wickets here. That’s one thing we’re trying to develop a little bit, and I am as well: to get that little bit quicker. It’s still a work in progress but I’ll keep at it.”