Overton – a force of nature – Somerset v Essex – County Championship 2022 – 14th, 15th and 16th April – Taunton

County Championship 2022. Division 1. Somerset v Essex. 14th, 15th and 16th April 2022. Taunton.

The following were unavailable for selection by Somerset through injury. Tom Banton, George Bartlett, Josh Davey and Sonny Baker, the last of whom will be unavailable for the immediate future. Matthew Renshaw has joined the squad, Craig Overton and Jack Leach have been approved to play by the ECB and Lewis Gregory and Jack Brooks have recovered from illness.

Somerset. B.G.F. Green, T.A. Lammonby, M.T. Renshaw, J.C. Hildreth, T.B. Abell (c), L.P. Goldsworthy, S.M. Davies (w), L. Gregory, C. Overton, P.M. Siddle, J. Leach.

Essex. N.L.J. Browne, Sir A.N. Cook, T. Westley, D.W. Lawrence, A.M. Rossington, M.J.J. Critchley, A.J.A. Wheater, S.R. Harmer, S. Snater, M.T. Steketee, S.J. Cook.

Overnight. Somerset 109 and 154.  Essex 180 and 3 for 1. Essex need 81 more runs to win with nine second innings wickets standing.

Final day 16th April – Overton – a force of nature

The crowd was larger than might be expected for a final day with a foregone conclusion, namely a Somerset defeat, and little more than an hour’s play in prospect on a warm and sunny Bank Holiday Saturday. A rough count suggested in the region of 500 well spread around the ground, perhaps a few more. “You never know,” someone said as I climbed the stairs to the top of the Trescothick Pavilion. “You don’t,” I replied, “especially with Somerset!” After all, Somerset cricket is so much easier to understand if you expect the unexpected. Not that Craig Overton uprooting Sam Cook’s off stump with the second ball of the morning was entirely unexpected. Overton is a force of nature with the ball, and his first ball had flown off the edge of Alistair Cook’s bat like the proverbial bat out of hell, fallen short of slip and run down to third man in front of the Colin Atkinson Pavilion for a single.  

Peter Siddle played 67 Tests for Australia, four seasons for Essex and opened the bowling opposite Overton. He had bowled in Essex’s first innings with all the accuracy and threat suggested by such a record. Siddle is not an explosive bowler in the Overton mould, but his bustling run and pacey accuracy present a constant threat. His second ball was tightly angled in at Cook from around the wicket demanding to be played. The bat came to meet it, but only far enough for the edge to send the ball straight into Steven Davies’ gloves. This time it was the crowd that exploded, they cheered beyond anything that might reasonably have been expected from 500 people.

Three balls later, from over the wicket at the right-handed Dan Lawrence, the ball was again angled in, perfectly threatening the off stump. Again it found the edge, thicker this time, for the ball flew low and wide of Overton at third slip. Overton dived long, low and slightly forward to intercept the ball just as it was about to make contact with the grass. The scoreboard read 4 for 4, and the crowd erupted again into extended cheering and applause. The applause returned at the end of the over as Siddle made his way back to the boundary. The applause finally subsided into an animated buzz as people tried to believe the evidence of their eyes as they looked at a score most had probably never before seen on a first-class scoreboard.

While the crowd tried to come to terms with the score, Overton, no respite for Essex, raced in at Adam Wheater and let forth a resounding appeal as the ball thudded into the pads. “Craig O!” shouted Abell, but the umpire remained motionless, and half raised arms in the crowd fell back on knees. An edge short of third slip brought gasps. More followed as Siddle sent a ball rocketing past the edge of Matthew Critchley’s bat. When Wheater drove Overton through the on side to the Ondaatje Stand and Critchley drove Siddle through the off to the benches at The Gimblett Levels Abell responded by clapping his encouragement followed by, “Come on lads!” The score was 15 for 4 but those two well-struck fours had brought home to the anxious Somerset soul the razor thin margins on which the Somerset bowlers were trading, for the runs required on the scoreboard had fallen into the 60s and the buzz in the crowd fell a notch with it.

The buzz was re-ignited by applause when Overton beat Critchley twice in an over and Siddle cut a ball in so much to hit Wheater on the thigh pad the deviation was visible from the Ondaatje End of the top of the Trescothick Pavilion. “Let’s get number five boys,” demanded Abell to a chorus of encouragement from all around the field. “Bang, bang, bang lads,” someone from the inner ring shouted as Gregory took over from Siddle at the river End and the score moved into the 20s. The anxiety at the paucity of the total Somerset had to defend began to impinge on the mind again as Essex began to nudge the ball into the gaps, the score reached 27 for 4 and the runs required fell into the 50s.

Then Critchley tried to accelerate. Overton, in his seventh over of the morning from the Trescothick Pavilion End bowled a ball of perfect length for the drive, but perhaps a foot and a half wide of off stump. Critchley reached, drove and edged the ball into his off stump which was left flat on the ground. What a cheer erupted then, for now there was a chance for Somerset. Five wickets down for 27. Five wickets standing with 57 still needed. Three balls later Westley, who had come in at the fall of Sam Cook, seemingly an aeon ago, tried to keep out a ball threatening his off stump and edged it straight to Davies. The roar this time was volcanic and Overton, arm held aloft, raced in celebration, almost to the Garner Gates boundary pursued by the rest of the Somerset team until they engulfed him. Faces in the crowd were wreathed in smiles as they looked at one another wondering, wondering if this was really possible. The score was 28 for 6. The runs required 56. The applause for Overton was as intense as I have heard for a bowler at the end of an over as the looks in the faces told of hope.

“Wheater can be dangerous,” I said to the man in front of me. “He is liable to try to hit Essex out of this. With this target, it wouldn’t take much.” “Harmer too,” he replied. Adam Rossington, who had replaced Critchley as the revolving door on the Essex dressing room had creaked around another turn, edged Gregory onto his foot, “Ohh!” the reaction from the top of the Trescothick Pavilion. “C’mon, c’mon,” urged Abell as the crowd fell silent for Gregory’s next ball. True to form, Wheater cut hard, the ball flew chest high directly through where fourth slip would have stood, but there were only three. With such a small target Somerset could not afford to be without a third man as well as a fine leg. The ball evaded fine leg anyway and crossed the rope below me. A maiden followed from Overton as the Somerset fielding was as tight as the bowling and the clenched toes in the crowd, Lewis Goldsworthy neatly stopping a Rossington cut at point to applause. Gregory took up the ball. “Number seven here. C’mon,” someone shouted. Overton ran to speak with Gregory. Wheater took a single from a thick edge to third man, then Gregory beat Rossington before Rossington edged to third man for another single, every edge and every run plucking at the Somerset nerve ends.

Essex were 35 for 6, 49 short of their target. Overton though had bowled eight successive overs of sheer pace and aggression and even the best needs must rest. Abell would also need to get through the Essex innings with just his three main pace bowlers, the Essex target was too low to risk anything less. Siddle came back to replace Overton. Twice in an over he beat Wheater to gasps from the crowd. Gregory was visibly moving the ball and beating the bat, but he was slightly more expensive than Siddle and Overton, Wheater and Rossington both driving him for four. With the score on 54 for 6 and just 30 needed Abell called upon Overton to replace Gregory at the River End. It was a huge ask so soon after that extended, destructive opening spell. Before the over was out, Wheater had been struck on the pad and was walking back to the Caddick Pavilion to extended applause for Overton, for this was a bowling performance of Herculean proportions and da Vincian skill. Essex were 57 for 7 with still 24 runs needed.

Rossington had scored 13 in 12 overs at the wicket during which he had been repeatedly beaten, played and missed an rapped on the pads. Now, with the target in sight and wickets running out he went on the attack. He took seven runs from an over from the miserly Siddle, but lost Harmer to a leg before wicket appeal in the midst of it. Essex were 65 for 8 with 19 needed. The Somerset bowlers were now receiving applause at the top of their run, as well as after beating the bat, as the crowd tried to lift them. Even from the top of the Trescothick Pavilion tiredness could be detected in the faces and bodies of Siddle and Overton, but still they drove themselves on, accelerating as much as they had at the start of play as their runs approached the crease. If human endeavour could shift Essex it seemed Overton and Siddle intended that it should.

Shane Snater had joined Rossington and, like the Somerset bowlers, neither took a backward step. The singles began to come from pushes through the gaps. Rossington cut Overton through backward point to the Ondaatje boundary for four. Snater pulled him, the ball took the top edge and looped to backward point, the point fielder unable to make enough ground to catch the ball or prevent two runs, the crowd emitting a mixture of gasps and groans as he ran. Now, just ten runs were needed. Snater top edged Siddle to third man for a single and Rossington drove him towards Gimblett’s Hill for two as Essex made a dash for the line. Seven needed.

As Overton went to the top of his run the crowd applauded with a rising rhythm, willing him on. Snater swung the bat, the ball flew over mid-on and crossed the Colin Atkinson boundary. Three needed. A thick edge to fine leg. Two needed. “Keep going boys,” urged Abell. “C’mon lads!” someone added. More applause. Shouts of, “Craig O!” Rossington steered to third man to bring the scores level and keep the strike. One run. Two wickets. Siddle bowled three balls to Rossington who could not pierce the one-saving field. “Get number eleven out here boys,” demanded Abell. Again, Rossington could not score. Applause. Two more balls held him back.

Another over from the mesmeric Overton. Snater facing. Kept out. A play and a miss. Short. Hook. Top edge. The ball steeples towards the heavens, drifts towards Lammonby at mid-off. Lammonby lines it up. Adjusts position. Re-adjusts. Waits. Waits. Not a breath taken anywhere in the ground. Thunderous silence. Lammonby’s hands take the ball. The ground erupts. People on their feet applauding over their heads. Overton celebrating. Abell has his number eleven at the wicket. Mark Steketee. Overton bowls. Played to the fielder. Left. Overton bowls the final ball of the over. Cuts in sharply, hits the pad, no appeal, runs towards square leg and Rossington runs hard for the single, his bat crossing the crease as the incoming ball flies by the stumps. Overton drops to his knees, head touching the ground. Over.

Overton bowled 12 of the 30 overs bowled in the morning, all but three of the overs at his end, and all bowled with searing intensity and destructive intent. It took Somerset within one ball of a victory which should never have even been a proposition at the start of the final day. It was a Herculean effort that should go down as one of the great feats of Somerset bowling history. A force of nature indeed. Peter Siddle too, at the age of 37, bowled eleven overs of fierce accuracy, taking three key wickets and holding back the Essex score to give Overton time at the other end. In the end it was a defeat but ask anyone who was there. Not one I will wager would have missed it. And none will ever forget it. Either the morning of cricket or that force of nature performance by Craig Overton, Somerset’s Hercules.

Result. Somerset 109 (T.A. Lammonby 48, S.R. Harmer 3-14, S.J. Cook 3-17, M.T. Steketee 3-47) and 154 (S.M. Davies 51, M.T. Renshaw 45, S. Snater 6-36). Essex 180 (A.N. Cook 59, C. Overton 7-57) and 84 for 9 (C. Overton 6-30, P.M. Siddle 3-25. Essex won by one wicket. Essex 19 points. Somerset 3 points.

Craig Overton’s first innings bowling analysis of 25-6-57-7 were his career-best bowling analysis. His match analysis of 38-9-87-13 were also his career-best match analysis and the first occasion on which he had taken ten or more wickets in a match.