After taking match figures of 7-68 against New Zealand at Lord's, Matthew Potts could not have asked for a better Test debut in England shirt. The Durham seamer was included in the squad on the back of having a breathtaking County Championship campaign, where he has already taken 35 wickets.
8-4-8-3. This was Matthew Potts’ opening spell figures after he plunged into Test cricket for the first time in England shirt at Lord’s, against reigning world champions New Zealand last week.
In fact, Potts’ first Test wicket came in the opening over, that too of Kane Williamson’s, the world’s third-best batsman at present as per ICC rankings. Then he flummoxed Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell in a gap of four overs before he returned to trap Ajaz Patel leg-before. When he left the field after the first innings, his figures read 9.2-4-13-4. Had he not suffered a cramp at the late stage, he could have ended up with a five-for.
On Ben Stokes’ first match as permanent captain, the 23-year-young Potts broke into the lineup ahead of Craig Overton, who was considered to be a frontrunner to join the pace attack alongside the forever youngsters James Anderson and Stuart Board. Overton’s inclusion was particularly on the cards due to the absence of the injured Ollie Robinson.
Potts came into the limelight in 2019, when he snared 17 wickets in his debut T20 blast season for Durham. He kept the good work going in white-ball cricket while representing Durham in the domestic circuit, as well as for the Northern Superchargers in the last edition’s Hundred.
Fair to say, it was not enough for someone to get a Test cap. So what was the reason behind Potts’ reward?
For Durham, Potts had been in scintillating form in the Division 2 County Championship earlier this year. At an average of 18.57, he took 35 scalps in six matches, five more than second-placed Toby Roland-Jones in the wicket-takers chart. With Stokes representing Durham in the domestic circuit as well, it was probably his call to get the youngster in the mix.
Potts’ figures in the second innings (20-3-55-3) of the Lord’s Test were not as impressive as it was in the first. Yet, it included another Williamson dismissal, along with the dangerous Tom Latham and the tailender Ajaz.
Amongst all his bag of tricks, the best skill Potts has got is his ability to swing the ball both ways. At present, there are only a few who can do that irrespective of the playing conditions. He has a knack for taking risks to get breakthroughs by executing his plans with perfection.
Safe to say, Potts’ fiery opening spell at Lord’s turned the match on its head, shifting the momentum irrevocably in England’s favour before Joe Root, former English captain, came, saw, and conquered New Zealand attack.
It has always been tough to be a fast bowler, especially in the long term. Potts has got the two best possible inspirations in Broad and Anderson, and he must not look back from here on.
While speaking about Potts’ life growing up as a cricketer, Durham’s bowling coach Neil Killeen shared an interesting story with BBC. “He (Potts) stuck his chest out as he does. You'd have thought he'd been in the dressing room for 15 years,” Killeen told BBC.
“He was straight into conversations with senior players, telling everyone how they should be bowling, batting or fielding. We had to say, 'Matthew just find your place, mate'. He is not quietly confident. He is very confident, but it is not an 'arrogant confident'. It is just the way he holds himself.”
No wonder why Rob Key, England's new managing director of men's cricket, called Potts a "point of difference" ahead of the Test series versus New Zealand.
Potts does not have an express pace like Mark Wood, England’s fastest bowler, but he can clock in excess of 85mph on a constant basis. His biggest challenge would be to stay fit and fine, as there have been plenty of examples in the past where fast bowlers, due to injury concerns, failed to match up to the expectations.
In the same conversation with the BBC, Killeen further explained why he rates Potts so highly. “He will run in and hit the pitch hard. He will certainly get into the battle and make it as uncomfortable as possible. That is not him chirping the batsman. That is him delivering the ball in uncomfortable positions. He has done that relentlessly throughout the summer,” Killeen added.
“He is right up there with those names. His bowling spells and matches this year are some of the best displays I have seen at Durham and this is my 30th year as a player and a coach."
Potts’ success at Lord’s, where he even never played a first-class before, was underpinned by his accurate length. With Anderson and Broad still not showing any sign of slowing down, he may lose his place once Robinson returns. However, England have desperately been looking for a couple of seamers who can fill their two leading wicket-takers voids. Potts, at this point, has been certainly considered as one for the future.
Let us hope Potts continues to shine at the biggest stage of all to help Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England’s newly-appointed Test head coach, bring out the revolution.