Taunton's well-honed image as a bowlers' graveyard is no longer as justified as it once was. For the last three or four years there's been noticeably more grass and bounce in the pitches, and they reward both skilful bowling and patient, discerning batting. In the old days it was usually a simple question of how many runs a side could make before it became too bored with the ease of it all to go on. Unsurprisingly, Somerset have never won the championship.
Now there is help there, although, as should be the way, you need to bowl well to find it. This season, with few exceptions, Somerset haven't been doing so often enough, and, when coupled with a general lack of form and runs from their batsmen, they currently look as far away from a maiden title as they have ever done.
The main exception has been a nineteen year-old from the north Devon coast called Jamie Overton.
Overton's bowling in Somerset's game against Warwickshire in late April, which was covered on Sky, led both David Lloyd and Mike Atherton to suggest that he could be a contender for next winter's Ashes tour, and Mike Selvey has recently joined this club of slightly breathless admirers. As Overton has played just eight first-class matches and taken 23 wickets, it instinctively feels as though people who should know better are getting just a little carried away.
There is, though, a lot to like about Overton.
For a start, unlike so many bowlers of his age, he doesn't look as though the kind of icy wind which plagues the county grounds of England at this time of year will pick him up and carry him over the nearest sightscreen. Overton is bulky, robust, muscular. In the old-fashioned way, he is built to be a seam bowler. Built for hard labour on capricious English tracks. And, from a well-balanced, high, rhythmical action, he has pace. Mid to high eighties with ease, and the ability to make the ball bounce and move away. He keeps his slips on their toes. Although his Cricinfo profile describes him as a medium pace bowler, he is nothing of the sort.
With any bowler of Overton's age, whatever their potential, the uncertainties of future form and fitness hang as heavily in the air as a lower-order hitter's skyer descending to earth; until their potential is realised or they fade from view, nobody can be certain what will happen.
With Jamie, whose name I've known since he and his twin were tearing up the Devon youth circuit as eleven year-olds, I have a hunch that he's going to be good.
Really, really good.
Boats against the current
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