When Ben Stokes didn’t sit on the plane to Australia for the Ashes, that itself was considered a small victory for Australia. With the passing days on the island, situation for the English side has been getting worse with one pacer after another getting injured. Even before the first tour match began in Perth, Steven Finn was ruled out of the series with a knee injury. Just after he was sent back home, another pacer, Jake Ball entered England’s injured list. Ball suffered strained ligaments in his right ankle during the first tour match and was not included in the second game and his chances of playing the first Ashes Test looks highly unlikely.
The terrible timing of the injury surely would have left Ball devastated, especially when he was the best bowler after James Anderson in the tour match and now he has very little time to prove his fitness before the first Test.
Knowing the Australian conditions favours seam, pace and bounce, England losing two fast tall fast bowlers has been nothing but a major blow. The likes of Mark Wood and Roland Toby Jones were already out of contention with their respective injuries so England will have to rely on a debutant to complete the pace quartet with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes.
The confidence in the visiting camp was regenerated after their bowlers, despite the series of injuries, helped them win the second tour game in Adelaide. Half an hour in the fourth day, the Cricket Australia XI (CA XI) were wrapped up and handed a 192-run loss. The overnight three wickets managed to add just five more runs before they were all sent back. It was uncapped Craig Overton, who struck on the sixth delivery of the day, before Anderson destroyed the tail.
England’s three fit seamers – James Anderson, Chris Woakes and Craig Overton – who played the game took 10 wickets for only 44 runs, producing one of the best sights of seam bowling, even if the opposition seemed like unwanted players from six Sheffield Shield states.
Somerset’s Craig Overton, who played in the first tour game too, earned recognition in the second match when England were without a fourth experienced fast bowler. After two wickets in Perth, he needed 13 balls to make his first breakthrough in Adelaide. His pace is not overwhelming but his height helps him generate the extra bounce and makes the ball moving both ways. With him will come along the needed aggression that will only strengthen the bowling attack in Gabba that usually aids pacers with the extra bounce and pace. Overton also hit on the shoulder of the tailender CA XI batsman Daniel Fallins and he admitted having done that a few times in the past. “I seem to have done it a few times over here, so it might be just the extra bounce you get,” Overton, being extremely cool about it, said.
Overton bowled 11 overs in the second innings of the Adelaide tour match, while the likes of Anderson and Woakes bowled 10 overs. Despite bowling an over more, Overton finished as the second most economical bowler after Anderson in the second innings. After a not so great show in the first innings where he went more than two an over, Overton worked on his accuracy in line and lengths to come back with a morale-boosting performance for England in the second innings.
Roping in a debutant for a match as crucial as an Ashes Test will always be a gamble but a new face in the team usually works well because the opposition would have never faced him. There is always a difference between hearing about a player, watching his videos on YouTube and actually facing him in an international match.
Apart from the injury issues on the side, England also have to worry about the tail. The absence of Ben Stokes at No. 5 or 6 will certainly hurt England and except Alastair Cook and Joe Root, the rest of the top and middle-order is an inexperienced bunch. That makes the batting line-up look vulnerable against an Australian attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.
If Overton is given his Test cap in Brisbane, he might bat at No. 9, unless Stuart Broad is promoted a place up. At Somerset, Overton has an image of being a decent hitter against spin and medium pace but the situation in Ashes will be way different from County Cricket as he will be up against some of the best bowlers of the current era. He has not scored a fifty in the ongoing County season and to make it worse, he had twin ducks in the second tour game. But, batting down the order, Overton has a hundred and seven First-Class half-centuries and that can be the only bolster for him, if he gets a call for the Brisbane Test.
With the ball, by far, Overton has overtaken Jake Ball for the fourth pacer’s spot for the Gabba Test, even if the injured fast bowler recovers before the match. He certainly made England’s attack look dangerous partnering Anderson, Broad and Woakes and that came as some encouragement for the visitors ahead of the final tour match followed by the much-awaited opening Test at Gabba.