There was no Ben Stokes at England training on Tuesday, an undisclosed illness forcing the captain to stay away, and for the remainder of the players who began tuning up for the third Test against New Zealand it was a case of seeing double.
Never before have England fielded twin brothers in the same XI but new ground could be broken here this week, with the uncapped and pacy Jamie Overton having joined his brother, Craig, in the squad for the series finale starting on Thursday and the possibility that the incumbent seam attack could be freshened up.
There is a fifth Test against India to come next week, rearranged after the Covid postponement last summer, and with this a chance to claim a 2-2 draw. England lead the Black Caps series 2-0 with one to play, offering scope to give at least one of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad or Matt Potts a rest if required.
How this pans out may yet hinge on the fitness of Stokes and a Headingley pitch which looked white and ripe for batting two days out. But jostling for position is something the Overton twins know only too well, having risen up the ranks of North Devon Cricket Club and Somerset together before Jamie opted to move to Surrey two years ago.
“It’s been like that since we were 16 years old,” said Craig, who claimed six wickets against India at this ground last summer in what was arguably his best performance in an England shirt. “My first game of first-class cricket, we were competing for the same spot and I ended up playing and Jamie missed out.
“We both said to each other before we found out [about Jamie’s callup] that whatever happens, we’ll be supportive. We’ve always been like that. We want what’s best for the team and if that means one of us misses out that’s the way it is.”
Jamie added: “I remember Craig playing West of England before me and then I got in the squad after that. Then I got through to the Under-19s before Craig. So it’s always worked that one has been ahead and then the other’s caught up. It sounds horrible but if this means I catch up and go one step ahead of him, that would be amazing.”
Any pact was paused when the pair met at Taunton in the most recent round of County Championship fixtures, Jamie felling his brother with a nasty bouncer to the head and, after a delay, forcing him to retire hurt. Though Craig came back out that day – and was met with another fruity short ball – delayed concussion then ended his match early.
“I would say he did me for lack of pace,” Craig claimed at training, Jamie rolling his eyes alongside him. “The one afterwards when I came back in was probably the quickest ball he bowled all spell. I sort of expected it a little bit and it was nice he did it because it got me back in the innings. I just managed to get out of the way of it.
“I have not faced him that much. We were always told to avoid each other in the nets because nets could get a bit spicy as we tried to outdo each other. So that was the first time I had faced him in a proper game. I knew a bumper was coming. It was good fun. I enjoyed the challenge. It is not often you face bowlers at 90mph.”
While both are 6ft 5in tall, Craig is a line-and-length bowler operating in the mid-80s and Jamie an express quick. The latter did not start the season but has since hit a rich seam of form and fitness that has returned 21 wickets at an average of 21.61 after Azhar Mahmood, Surrey’s bowling coach, helped him to groove a shorter, more efficient runup.
Jamie said: “I think you can see that with Craig in his first-class stats, he doesn’t really miss a length very often. And I might be a bit more wayward, potentially with a few more magic balls in there. But the last couple of years I’ve learned to be able to hit that length a bit more than I have done in my earlier career.”
The pair put the difference here down to their formative years playing for North Devon, with Jamie explaining how the club’s picturesque coastal ground in Instow dictated their approaches.
“One end was always heavily into the wind and the other one was with it, because of the way the breeze came off the sea,” he said. “I always got the sea end and Craig bowled into the wind. I think when you bowl into the wind you’ve got to be able to control your length a lot more.”
Craig added: “I’ve not tried to bowl 90mph because that’s not me. I’ve tried to do the basics and not go for many runs and let him hit people in the head.”
It is a sensation that Craig, the elder by three minutes, knows only too well and something New Zealand’s batters may be about to discover.