How Matthew Potts - the hothead who once brawled with team-mates - became indispensable for England

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How Matthew Potts - the hothead who once brawled with team-mates - became indispensable for England - PA
How Matthew Potts - the hothead who once brawled with team-mates - became indispensable for England - PA

When called up for the recent New Zealand series, Matthew Potts was asked how he would approach a maiden Test appearance that had seemed so unlikely just a few months earlier.

His response? “I am honestly looking to change nothing about what’s got me here. Run in and bowl hard”

Those words epitomised Potts' no-nonsense approach to life, and cricket, and the results justified the approach. In three Tests he claimed 14 wickets, at an average of 23.28. No Englishman claimed more victims, and it has cemented his place in the side. Ollie Robinson, England's player of the series against India last year but whose progress since has been stymied by fitness problems, now finds himself back in the queue for a starting berth.

There is little glamour in Potts’s bowling. Not possessing the skillful hoop of James Anderson, the express pace of Jofra Archer or the brutal belligerence of Ben Stokes, he has expertly transferred the unflashy skills that yielded 35 County Championship wickets at 18.57 earlier this season into the international arena.

By relentlessly questioning batsmen and generating awkward bounce from flat pitches - despite averaging just 81mph - he frequently caused problems against New Zealand where others could not, hitting a good line and length with 42 per cent of his deliveries, more than any pace bowler in the series aside from Tim Southee.

“What we’ve worked on at Durham is trying to find a way to challenge both edges of the bat by being relentless with his lines and lengths, and also working on the ball wobbling and nipping around a bit,” said the county's bowling coach Neil Killeen, who has worked with Potts for close to a decade.

“In the past, he bowled what I would call pretty lines, just outside off stump with the ball swinging. He looked lovely with the ball going away from the right-handed batsman, but he wasn’t getting people out as much as he has this year.

“We challenged him to make the batsman play more and cause more problems for a longer period of time. He’s come out and done that brilliantly at a good pace, and then gone into Test cricket and done the same. He hasn’t tried to be somebody he isn’t.”

Killeen also describes Potts’ other major attribute: an unyielding confidence that has ensured a seamless progression to the England ranks, but which has sometimes proved problematic

One former club team-mate, Ash Thorpe earlier this year told the BBC about one notable occasion: “I’m a big bloke, 17 or 18 stone, but aged about 15, during a rain delay, Matty said: ‘I am going to fight everyone in the changing room and I’m going to start with you, Ash.’

“It was nothing more than him wanting to prove a point - the alpha male inside him. He didn’t get beyond me. He was on the floor. But that is the kind of confidence he exudes as a player and a person.”

'He could be a bit too headstrong'

Similarly, Killeen recalls Potts being told to “find your place” after flinging himself into senior dressing-room conversations when called into the Durham first team aged 18.

“He’s always been very enthusiastic, and he’s an exceptionally confident guy,” said Killeen. “When he first came onto the scene, sometimes that confidence could mean he was a bit too headstrong. But he has learned.”

Indeed, an unerring conviction in his own abilities has not prevented the development of a selfless attitude admired by Stokes, his Durham team-mate and new England captain, who referenced Potts’ career-best, match-winning seven for 40 to defeat Glamorgan in May.

“He turned up on day four with a bit of a stiff side and someone in his situation with Test selection coming round the corner, he could have just sat back and said: ‘No, I am going to just look after myself here’,” said Stokes. “But he didn’t. He ran in and he won the game for Durham.”

In time, a plethora of England pace bowlers will return from the ailments that afforded Potts his international chance. They might just find the pecking order has changed.

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