Craig in fine form for England Lions

Craig Overton 100

Craig Overton gained the reward for weeks of hard graft with a fine all-round performance for England Lions against Sri Lanka A in Dambulla – including a new career best with the bat.

The 22-year-old had been forced to adopt a watching brief since a man of the match performance in his previous appearance for the Lions, in a 50-over match against the UAE in Dubai in December – other than the one warm-up game on this trip in Colombo last month.

However, he has continued to work hard on both his bowling and batting in the nets, as well as serving uncomplainingly as a regular 12th man – so his success in the first game of the one-day series against Sri Lanka A had been well-earned.

Overton was the pick of the four Lions seamers, pegging back the Sri Lankan openers after a flying start by conceding only six in his first three-over spell, and then earning a couple of wickets later on.

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However, it was his batting that really took the eye.  Coming in at number nine with the Lions in deep trouble at 133 for seven, he salvaged some respectability and even threatened to pull off a remarkable victory before bad light stopped play with 60 more needed off five overs.

Craig ended unbeaten on 60 from 45 balls, with three fours and two cleanly-struck legside sixes- a first List A half-century, beating a previous best of 49 in a Royal London One-Day Cup game against Durham at Taunton in 2015.  “I was caught and bowled by John Hastings in that game,” he recalled with a grimace. “So it’s great to have got a 50, although obviously it’s disappointing the way that the game finished.

“It was nice to get out there at last.  It’s been a while but I suppose that’s the way cricket goes.  We had a break at Christmas, then I came out here and didn’t play in the Test matches. I was working hard to make sure I was ready for these games if I got a go, and it seems to have paid off now.  I was happy with my bowling too.  At the start I was in the first powerplay so just kept it tight, and at the end I mixed it up by bowling a few slower balls to not let them get away.  We did that pretty well and we were pretty happy with what they got in the end. We were a bit unfortunate with the way it finished.”

Craig Overton Appeal Main Craig Overton 50

“With the bat we obviously had a bit of a challenge but it was nice to score a few runs.  I just went out there and played with a bit of freedom, because I knew we had to go a little bit. I know I can bat and it’s something I can try to work on.  There’s so much time to practise, that’s what’s good about these tours.  You can just develop your whole game and it’s not just focused on one thing.  Even with the Pace Programme for younger fast bowlers, you have a specialist batting coach come out with you.  It’s massive for me and hopefully I can keep working on it.

“Growing up I was always a batter that bowled, so it’s something I do want to do to get up the order and it’s something I’m definitely working towards.  If I can keep bowling the way I am then that will be even better.”

Craig is now looking forward to the second match in the series, also in Dambulla on Saturday.  There are three more games, in Kurunegala and Colombo, before he heads home for a short break and will then have the chance to make his point with the red ball after his recent selection for the MCC in their four-day match against Middlesex, the County Champions.

That will mean reuniting with Jack Leach and despite his own frustrations at missing out on selection, Overton was delighted that the spinner returned home on a high with two wickets in Sri Lanka A’s second innings.  “Obviously it’s been a difficult winter for him, so it’s nice the way it finished,” he said.  “To get those couple of wickets was him being back to where he was last year which is really good.  That will be nice for him to take back, and hopefully he can keep developing that in Desert Springs with the Somerset boys ready for the season.”