The Championship continuously revolves. Round and round and round it goes. Players come, and players go. Some stay for seemingly infinite orbits, whereas others jump on and off during a single rotation. Within this mystical world, and its myriad players, come storylines that bewitch.
The comfort of the grizzled old pro going at it once again; the mystique of the overseas signing gearing up for a Test series; the debut of the prodigy that you’ve tracked through the age-grades; or the redemption dance of a previously discarded international. But what grabs us like no other, and draws us through the gates to sit huddled beneath those grey skies, is the young breakthrough player making a bolt for the Test squad.
This is an early season phenomenon only. The worse the Test team is performing, the more excited we become at early Championship form. The chance we’ve uncovered someone who can save the summer. Once the mainstream chattering starts, the case picks up pace, and turns into an unstoppable avalanche. And we county devotees love it. Another chance to point to the quality of The Championship and say it is more than good enough. Another tick in the constant battle to justify relevance.
This year’s figurine is Matty Potts. Squint slightly from the Don Robson Pavilion, and you may indeed see Action Man in Potts chiselled jaw and square shoulders. An identikit Northern fast bowler of vintage dreams. He runs in hard and bowls fast.
By being the leading wicket taker across both divisions to date, he made himself impossible to ignore for International selection. His 35 wickets (at 18.57) are followed immediately, but not that closely, by Toby Roland-Jones, Craig Overton, Keith Barker, Mohammed Abbas and Hasaan Ali. That tells its own story.
Those in attendance at The Riverside for Potts last game before the squad announcement, were keenly aware that they may be the last to witness the man-child before nationwide awareness arrived. There was a buzz at the start of each of his spells. Toilet breaks were taken on the overs which alternated his. The new England captain stood conspicuously under a sun hat at mid-off, but barely an eye was cast in his direction.
This is the allure of the breakthrough player. The excitement that surrounds them is contagious. We want to witness them before they “make it”. To say that we knew about them before most others. To say they are one of ours.
But herein lies the rub; after all that excitement, they won’t be one of ours for long.
After winning the game for Durham with seven second innings wickets, Potts spoke of his excitement to play at Lords the following week against Middlesex. He spoke of wanting to continue that form for the rest of the season, of just wanting to continue to take wickets for Durham and of building on that first win of The Championship. Three days later, the Test squad was announced, and Potts name was there. Yet, on the Durham teamsheet for Lords the following day, his name was missing. Undoubtably at the request of the ECB, he was consigned to carry drinks for the next four days.
This is the contradiction of county cricket. Strive to win as many matches as possible with local lads, strive to produce players of international quality and strive to bring excitement to your supporters; then rarely see those players play for you again.
For Durham, this conflicting duality perhaps stings a little more. After all, the ultimate excitement of Potts performances for the team’s supporters was the opportunity to lift them towards promotion. They are still scrambling to escape from Division 2 as a result of the draconian penalty handed down in 2016; relegation, 48 point deduction for the next Championship season and removal of The Riverside’s Test status.
This isn’t to downplay the £3.8million bailout the ECB provided. But, it should be remembered that the required investment to reach such status had previously been encouraged, and almost certainly required, by the very same body who had to bail them out.
There is a cruel irony in the fact that the players developed by the county to overcome the ECB’s cruel punishment, won’t be available for the majority of the remainder of the season. Now, they are required to perform on behalf of the ECB.
And what thanks for the county who developed them? Of the three Durham players selected in the recent squad, only Ben Stokes holds a central contact. There may be some monetary compensation, however not only does the county have to pay the salary of the player, but more importantly, they now have to go without their services in a promotion chase.
There are posters around The Riverside advertising Durham’s thirty year celebration of first class status. They are already weatherbeaten and faded, as if reflective of the county’s recent history. Amongst the faces on the discoloured cardboard are Graham Onions, Paul Collingwood, Scott Borthwick, Mark Wood and Ben Stokes. All local lads, all proudly North Eastern and all, at some point, siphoned off to play for their country.
They are still ours, but they now just belong to more of us.
For the County Cricket fan, the excitement of the breakthrough bolter is always fleeting. Maybe that is why we love it so much. Like a shot of adrenaline, the quick high is often followed by a much sharper low, as they disappear from view.
You can read more of David’s stuff on his blog here.
Yet, on the Durham teamsheet for Lords the following day, his name was missing.
Not so, David. We were surprised and delighted when we arrived at Lord’s to see that his name was indeed on the scorecard. It wasn’t until an hour or so after the start of play that the announcement came over the PA system that he wasn’t playing !
Which of course continues to show the absolute ineptness of crickets supposed “governing body”. A joke in itself. Years ago players played for their counties often just before or the day after a test: Gooch springs to mind. What is it with the idiots at the ECB? They don’t seem to want players to play anymore. How long will it be before Potts joins the other 8 bowlers “injured?” You can bring in new coaches but until you change the record in the words of Led Zepplin the song remains the same.
That’s right, their record has remained the same. It’s a disgrace. In fact, they have been the worst governing body in cricket history.
What do we have to do? We need a new governing body. A governing body that doesn’t look at money first, a governing body that isn’t dominated by big business, and a governing body that doesn’t exist for the sake of just existing.
The ECB is run by people who don’t care about cricket. A governing body should be run by people who care about the game and the fans.
As a fellow Durham fan, am delighted to see Potts make it into the England team – even if it means we might not see him for the rest of the summer. In our 30 years of first class cricket we’ve produced more England players than some other counties have in over a century, and we should be very proud of that.
We still haven’t forgotten how – as you rightly put – the ECB punished us for getting into financial trouble, caused largely by doing exactly what the ECB encouraged us to do in the first place. But don’t they now provide some kind of financial incentive or reward to counties for developing England players? If so, that may give some compensation for missng out on seeing them turn out in county cricket.
It’s a good job for the ECB that season ticket holders are such a small number of county supporters, otherwise there’d be mutiny in the ranks with central contracts and instructions on when to play. As a Warwickshire supporter it was great watching the emergence of Ian Bell, but then he was picked too young when better alternatives were available and his county career suffered as a result. Then, when he’d recovered his touch it wasn’t long before he was signed up by the ECB, so he hardly played a county game for years. This couldn’t happen in footie where even today club managers can dictate to international ones.
“He runs in hard and bowls fast.”
So why do I see him quoted as saying he bowls 80-85mph? I’m not against bowlers of that pace – indeed I’ve written repeatedly here about how England and their media stakeholders underrate that sort of bowler – but it isn’t “fast” in any meaningful sense.
I’ve not seen him yet and will be glad if merely after his first spell a glaring technical problem hasn’t been discovered. If I was greedy I’d also wish for a pleasing side-on action and not another identikit ECB chest-on monstrosity. This supposedly protects against back injury which ignores 1) the huge number of bowlers with this sort of action with a back injury 2) the bowlers in the past with side-on actions who seldom got injured (from Fred Trueman to Kapil Dev).
Having seen his 1st test spell today I was impressed with his accuracy and intelligence, but he seems another of the medium quicks our county game is full of, who are successful in this country but when tried abroad come up short for their lack of that extra half yard if pace to rush opposition batsmen. New Zealand have had no match practice in this country yet so one wouldn’t expect too much from their batsmen first up. Our players, with the exception of Bairstow have had match practice but still displayed all their old faults. McCullum now has first hand experience of whatvhes up against and with Stokes’ moronic ‘play like you’re in your back garden’ comment, presumably with McCullum’s ok, it isn’t a promising start.
Well he looked good to amongst the usual mayhem of England’s batting. Wouldn’t have got near the side though if the 8 bowlers injured had been available and Stokes wasn’t captain. But good luck to him. We bowled well but at 49/7 there is no way they should have got 135. Hmmm…They could even get a 1st Innings lead!
May I assume that now Potts is playing for England he will be known as Pottsy?
Yes he is!