The cricket ebbed with the weather at Edgbaston. England’s advantage went with the clouds that blew away in the afternoon and India’s batsmen thrived under a bright blue sky later in the day. It made a long, hard day of it for the bowlers, who found the ground shifted so quickly beneath them that they lost the footing they had secured in the morning.
When Matt Potts started bowling his spell to Rishabh Pant, he had taken two for 39; when he finished it, he had two for 72. A four through cover, two through point, two more to long leg, another through mid-wicket, another over the slips, then he was pulled out of the attack.
It felt like an education in the perils of Test bowling.
It was only three months ago that Potts was still grinding away in county cricket. He got his first five-for in first-class cricket when he was playing for Durham against Leicestershire. When he spoke to the press that evening, they asked him if he wanted to play for England. Even he thought it was a little bit premature.
“It is every boy’s dream,” Potts said then, “but I’d be daft to get ahead of myself. One of the stepping stones to that would be to get myself involved in the England Lions.” After all, he had not been involved in any of the England squads, Lions or otherwise, since his days playing for the under-19 team against India back in 2017.
And now here he was three games and 14 wickets into the Test career he had been dreaming about. At the ECB’s head office they keep lists of the leading contenders for each position in all of England’s international teams. One wonders how far down they had to go through the fast bowlers to find Potts when they called him up in spring. Past Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, of course, on beyond Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Olly Stone and Ollie Robinson, for sure, then keep going past Sam Curran, Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton and Matt Fisher too. If Potts was on the list at all, his name was a long way overleaf.
One guesses his selection this summer had as much to do with what Ben Stokes saw in him when he was playing for Durham in the Championship as it did with England’s scouting network.
Potts has been knocking around for a few years now. He made his debut for Durham when he was 18 but injuries and competition for places meant he had played only 18 first-class games in the years since. He made his way in white-ball cricket. Potts did so well for Durham’s T20 side that he earned himself a place in the Northern Superchargers squad for the first season of the Hundred. After that he was picked up by the Lahore Qalandars in the Pakistan Super League. But all the while he was thinking about playing Test cricket. “Red-ball cricket is where I want to be,” he said after that match against Leicestershire, “It’s the epitome.”
The Qalandars used him only as injury cover for a couple of weeks. Their head coach, Aaqib Javed, was surprised when Potts asked to stay on with the squad even though they did not have any need for him. “I just want to learn,” he told Javed, who said that Potts “was like a sponge” and kept asking Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf how to bowl “scrambled seam and reverse swing”.
Everyone who has played with Potts seems to make the same two observations about him: how curious he is off the field and how confident he is on it. Anderson and Broad say the same. In his first season at Durham the county had to tell Potts to wind it in a bit when he kept telling the senior players what to do. He has not started giving advice to Anderson and Broad yet (“I’m sure it’s on its way,” Anderson said before this match). One imagines Stokes liked that and appreciated his attitude towards fitness too.
As Anderson said, Potts is “a strong boy who can last a good while”. He did not make the comparison with Robinson, but we can. Robinson would have been playing in this game if it had gone ahead as scheduled last summer. He is still the leading wicket-taker in the series, with 21 at 21 runs each.
At the Oval last September it was Robinson who was working over Virat Kohli. But his burgeoning career foundered over the winter, when his body kept breaking down during the second and third spells England needed from him in the Ashes. Potts will not have that problem. He puts his leap into Test cricket down to the hard work he has done on his strength and conditioning.
“I don’t think I had the capability to sustain that pace over a spell in the past,” he said, “I’ve worked very hard on my physical fitness.” And now Potts has Robinson’s place in the team. He was all over Kane Williamson in the New Zealand series. Here at Edgbaston he cleaned up Kohli too, who played on after he was caught in two minds about whether or not to leave a ball that he should have.
He got Hanuma Vihari lbw and had Ravindra Jadeja dropped by Sam Billings when Stokes brought him back into the attack later in the day. He was still bowling at the very end, his figures were bruised but he was as bullish as ever and that much wiser, too, about what it takes to play Test cricket.