Midway through last season’s Bob Willis Trophy campaign, Jamie Overton took the agonising decision to call time on his career at Somerset, and seek out pastures new at The Kia Oval, where he hopes to find the freedom to break out of the constraints that he had found himself in at Taunton, and fulfil his ultimate goal of breaking into the England team.
But no-one gets to break lifelong ties quite that easily – especially when your twin brother, and fellow fast-bowling allrounder, Craig is still a stalwart for your former county. And sure enough, when the fixtures were drawn up for this season’s rejigged County Championship, there were Surrey and Somerset, lined up in Group 2 for a pair of home-and-away fixtures – at Taunton on May 13 and The Oval on July 11 – where the Overton sibling rivalry can be stepped up an extra notch.
“Excited is probably not the right word,” Overton said of his impending return to Taunton. “I’m not apprehensive but going back to a ground that you’ve called home for near enough ten years is going to be very strange. But it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. Hopefully I won’t get too many boos, or that sort of thing.
“The strangest thing will be playing against Craig,” he added. “I’ve played with him since I was probably 7 or 8, but I’ve never actually played a cricket game against him, so that’s going to be the strangest part. Knowing what we’re like, we will be very competitive. And we won’t be taking it easy on each other, that’s for sure.”
The two brothers had been neck-and-neck for the formative years of their careers – and even featured in the same England squad back in 2015, when Jamie was called up to join his brother as an injury replacement for that summer’s ODI series against New Zealand.
I’ve played with Craig since I was probably 7 or 8, but I’ve never actually played a cricket game against him, so that’s going to be the strangest part
More recently, however, it has been Craig who has stolen the edge in their rivalry. He has earned more opportunities as a first-team pick for Somerset – as shown by his tally of 95 first-class matches compared to his brother’s 69 – and he’s got the England recognition too, with four Tests to his name so far, most recently at Old Trafford in the 2019 Ashes, and a one-off ODI against Australia the previous summer.
“I wouldn’t say there’s extra motivation but it’s always nice to get one over your brother,” Jamie said. “Any sibling rivalry, you always want to get one over them a little bit, so we’ll see what happens. The last three, four, five years he’s done really well, so it’s going to be hard to pip him, but I’ll be doing my best, that’s for sure.”
The one area in which Jamie does have the edge over his brother is on the speed gun. When he’s fully fit and firing, he is capable of speeds that are up there with the most rapid on the county circuit – and with England seeking to expand their fast-bowling stocks ahead of next winter’s Ashes, he recognises the chance to get hold of the new ball at The Oval could yet propel him into the selector’s thoughts.
“I want to take the new ball,” he said. “I’ve done my years in Somerset with the old ball, so I want a new challenge, but I wouldn’t be too unhappy if I didn’t get a new ball. It’s just one of those things.
“I’ve done quite a bit of work with Richard Johnson [Surrey’s bowling coach] in the last three or four weeks, just trying to fine-tune my action a bit,” he added. “That should help me to bowl quicker easier, if that makes sense, rather than trying to muscle it down, which I’ve done in the past. So fingers crossed, everything goes well and I have a good season.
“Obviously, pace helps, but you’ve still got to be accurate. You’ve still got to put the ball in the right areas, you’ve still got to put shape on the ball. At times I’ve probably gone too much on the pace side of things and not relied on accuracy. And I think, going forward, I want to try and be more accurate. Over the last couple years, I’ve worked on it quite hard, but having both is a very good attribute to have.”
Somerset’s consistent strength in recent seasons has cramped Overton’s style in other ways too. It’s hard to get much recognition for your all-round game when you’re surrounded by a glut of other bowlers with more than a passing ability with the bat – not just his brother, but Lewis Gregory, Roelof van der Merwe and Jack Brooks among others too.
But it was while batting at No. 10 against Warwickshire last summer that Jamie crashed his way to a startling maiden hundred – 120 from 92 balls all told, with 15 fours and six sixes.
“My bowling is probably my strongest asset at the moment, but I’m always trying to make myself more of an allrounder,” he said. “The move here was to give me more chances with the bat. You can never say where you’re going to bat, but I’d like to be around seven or eight.”
Two weeks later, however, he was a Surrey player – signed on loan for the remainder of the season, ahead of his permanent switch this summer. And though that meant missing out on Somerset’s final push for that elusive silverware (they would once again lose out to Essex in the Bob Willis Trophy final), he was able to get stuck in immediately for his new club, playing a full part in their run to the final of the T20 Blast, where Nottinghamshire got the better of them in a rain-reduced final.
“I feel fully settled to be fair,” he said. “In hindsight, it was actually quite a good move to come up for the last month or so of last season, just to put names to faces and get to meet everyone. The run we got on the T20 was really good for the squad, and it shows what we can do. And hopefully we can push forward this year.”
And as and when the Covid restrictions are lifted and crowds can begin to return to county cricket, Overton is eager to take advantage of the bigger stage that The Oval can afford him, and maybe get himself used to the sort of limelight that, on the eve of his 27th birthday, could yet be awaiting him if he can use this move to fulfil his potential.
“It’s been a long old year, not playing in front of crowds, and I’m certainly looking forward to the T20s we’ve got here, with potentially 25-30,000 people. It’s what you play for as cricketer. You want to put yourself in the spotlight.
“I want to play for England, and when you play for England there’s going to be bigger crowds than I was getting at Somerset, so you never know how you’re going to deal with that pressure until the pressure comes on.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket