HEADINGLEY, LEEDS – Fans of a rejuvenated England squad were able to celebrate the exploits of familiar heroes as the afternoon turned into the evening of day four of the 3rd Test against New Zealand.
Jack Leach blocked as Ben Stokes bludgeoned to beat Australia on this ground three years ago, but the left-arm spinner has thrived in his starring role this time around.
Leach played with a control that often escaped him during his Test career, securing long partnerships between Tom Latham and Kane Williamson and then Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell never far from England. Feasting on Black Caps cock was his reward. A return of 5/66 was his second five of the match and meant a 10-wicket opener in the longest format.
Despite early losses to Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, Joe Root played with lush ease alongside Ollie Pope to delight his home crowd, never more so than when he implausibly knocked down Neil Wagner for six.
But England closing 183/2 in a quick 296 chase for victory was only possible thanks to a star who opened the door just when Mitchell and Blundell appeared to have changed the locks. At just 23 years old, Matthew Potts appears to be born to be a fast Test match pitcher.
MORE: England v New Zealand score, highlights and analysis from 3rd Test at Headingley as Pope and Root propel Stokes men to series blank
Did Matthew Potts play for England in the Test series against West Indies?
The story of Potts’ rapid rise begins in March 2022, when it hasn’t begun at all.
England drew reactions that wavered between outrage and bewilderment as they left James Anderson and Stuart Broad out of their squad to play a three-game series against the West Indies, in the ill-fated Red Ball Test.
The closest Potts to a revamped roster, who was already without Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Sam Curran and Olly Stone due to injury, was to be put on hold at home. Matthew Fisher and Saqib Mahmood made their Test debuts in a 1-0 series loss that marked the end of Root’s captaincy.
Why was Matthew Potts chosen to play in the test matches against New Zealand?
Wood is now also sidelined after elbow surgery, while Fisher and Mahmood have joined Archer, Curran and Stone in being hit with stress fractures in their backs.
These unfortunate circumstances and England’s change in management combined to create an opportunity for Potts. Newly appointed test skipper Stokes returned to Durham to contest the early season rounds of the County Championship and found a young tailor making waves.
In six matches, Potts took 35 wickets at an average of 18.57, with best figures of 7/40. He suddenly looked like a perfect candidate for England’s new era in the longest format under Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum.
How many wickets did Matthew Potts take in the England vs New Zealand test series?
As the introductions to test cricket go, it is quite difficult to fire one of the best players in the world in your first match at Lord’s.
That’s exactly what Potts did in the series opener, having Kane Williamson taken behind. Impressive, things continued more or less in the same vein.
New Zealand captain Williamson has fallen three times against Potts in four innings, while the 23-year-old has 14 wickets in total at 23.28.
MATTHEW POTTS FINDS WILLIAMSON! 👏#ForTheNorth
— Durham Cricket (@DurhamCricket) June 3, 2022
That said, fast young bowlers bursting onto the scene with a bunch of wickets against hitters who don’t know too much about them is not an entirely uncommon occurrence.
Where Potts gave the clearest indication of a long-term future at the top level was how he thrived when he was given additional responsibilities at Leeds this week.
Why isn’t James Anderson playing in England against New Zealand at Headingley?
The answer is not ‘because he’s from Lancashire and he hates Yorkshire’. The reality is more mundane. Anderson, England’s all-time veteran, has an ankle problem and hasn’t taken a chance with next week’s encounter against India at Edgbaston on the horizon.
Anderson and Broad have 1,200 Test wickets between them. The first change of bowling after two masters of their craft is a very good concert. Being asked to replace the greatest bowler in your country is a bit more daunting.
That was the briefing given to Potts at Headingley as Jamie Overton came on as an X-factor option in the attack. Alongside Broad, Potts would be accused of relentlessly hitting his lines and lengths and smothering New Zealand hitters with the oxygen of easy runs.
He did it impeccably in both runs. After the Black Caps won the coin toss and elected to strike, Potts took the ball again and proceeded to dispatch 26 overs for numbers of 1/34 with 11 maidens. This equated to a miserly economy rate of 1.3 races per plus. No English tailor who has scored 20 or more overs in an innings in this century has been so frugal.
Pottsy does it again! 💪
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) June 26, 2022
His 3/66 second innings featured the in-form Mitchell’s vital fourth-afternoon wicket, which created the opening for Leach to cheer.
“We hung on well and I think Pottsy played really well, he kept going and going. He probably deserved five wickets,” the spinner said afterwards, acknowledging his debt to the youngster.
How fast does Matthew Potts play?
For all the earth-shattering excitement of the nascent McCullum-Stokes era, Potts doesn’t quite tick that box stylistically. While Overton entered the team as a man known for being able to hit 90mph, Broad’s latest new partner is in the low-to-mid 80mph range.
Strong, repeatable action means he passes the ball around fast enough to let hitters know they’re in a fight. Potts’ real strengths lie in his unerring accuracy – especially in the off-stump outside channel for right-handers – and his ability to swing the ball back and forth.
Blundell enjoyed more success than most in Potts’ eight-game stint on Sunday, finishing 88 paces, but the New Zealand wicket-striker knew he had entered an elite-level contest.
“It was a good battle. I think that spell was a serious bowling spell, even with that old ball,” he said.
“Having the ability to move the ball back and forth off the ropes… was pretty impressive, to be honest.
“It felt like you had to be ‘turned on.’ I thought he was playing damn well.
All the evidence suggests that Blundell will have many more international players to share Matthew Potts war stories with in the months and years to come.