Jack Leach hoping to spin his way back into England’s plans

It says much for Jack Leach’s appeal that after Ben Stokes had played the innings to end all innings at Headingley in the Ashes summer of 2019, there was as much talk about his bespectacled partner as there was of England’s flame-haired hero.

Specsavers tweeted that Leach would be offered free glasses for life in recognition of a 17-ball support act that ultimately proved every bit as crucial as the Stokes’ blitzkrieg against the Australian bowlers on a sun-drenched afternoon in Leeds.

He may have scored one not out, but his role in a 76 run last wicket partnership has already entered English cricket folklore. The highlights of the last hour’s play that afternoon have been viewed almost a quarter of a million times on YouTube.

And a man who would never have thrust himself willingly into the spotlight suddenly found the eyes of the world upon him.

Now, almost 18 months on, Leach finds himself in Sri Lanka, preparing to play a central role for his country once again – after finding himself on the periphery since an Ashes series that made him a household name, not just in England but around the globe.

It will make a pleasant change for a cricketer who has played just four first class matches and three Tests since that fabled afternoon 17 months ago.

“It’s quite exciting personally, just the thought of playing some matches,” he tells The Independent.  “It has been a very strange time, not just in a cricket sense, but for everyone.”

Independent Rugby Newsletter

Live Rugby union coverage direct to your inbox every week

Read our full mailing list consent terms here

Independent Rugby Newsletter

Live Rugby union coverage direct to your inbox every week

Read our full mailing list consent terms here

He’s not wrong there. After England had drawn their series against Australia, the talk was of new beginnings.

As England prepare for their first Test since Mark Wood demolished South Africa at the Wanderers in Johannesburg last January, the discussion is now dominated by biosecure environments and bubbles.

The cricket is almost secondary.

Whatever happens in the coming weeks, though, Leach is ready, having spent his unexpected downtime working on his game in the kind of detail that wouldn’t ordinarily be possible.

“Obviously, I’ve just been trying to tick over, I’ve kept training and used it as some time to improve in certain areas,” he says.

“When you’re playing all year round you don’t often get that time to try and make some genuine improvements. I’ve definitely tried to do that and make the most of the time I’ve had.

“A lot of time has passed and it (the Headingley Test) feels a long time ago.

“I’m not someone who stays looking at the past or looks at that and thinks it’s something I can just sit on. I feel like I want to do a lot more and put a lot more performances in.

“I felt like I needed to improve so I’ve really put the time in.”

Leach’s Test record is eminently respectable. Since making his debut against New Zealand in Christchurch in March 2018, he has taken 34 wickets at a cost of just 29.

When England last toured Sri Lanka in November 2018, the 29-year-old took 18 wickets at a cost of just 21.

He was ably assisted by Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, with the triumvirate taking 48 wickets between them.

This summer, he was leap-frogged in the England pecking order by his former county colleague, Dom Bess, who played in six Tests against the West Indies and Pakistan, taking nine wickets at an average of 43.

Close friends, the west country pair had numerous discussions this summer over Bess’s move away from Somerset to Yorkshire.

“It will be weird at Somerset with him not being there next season,” says Leach.

“We chatted quite a bit during the summer when he was making his decision. He felt like it was something he had to do and I fully respect that.

“He’s a great character in the dressing room and people loved him (at Taunton) but he has to fulfil his aspirations and to do that he felt he had to make a move away and get more cricket as a first choice spinner.

“He’s still so young. He’s still only 23, he has got plenty of time.

“I think back to when I was 23 and I was nowhere near where he is. Spinners tend to develop a little bit later so he’s got a lot of time on his hands.”

Leach, meanwhile, is keen to make up for the time he has lost in the past 12 months.

And while he’s in Sri Lanka, he would also love the opportunity to catch up with the country’s most famous sporting name, Muttiah Muralitharan, who took 800 wickets in just 133 Tests.

“I’ve never met him,” he says. “He wasn’t around back in 2018 but what a legend of the game. It would be great to meet him one day. I think I was twelfth man when he was playing for Gloucestershire against Somerset in a T20 match once but that’s as close as I’ve been.

“He was a bit of a magician.”

Leach will hope a little bit of that sorcery can rub off on him when he finally gets the ball back in his hand.

Source: Read Full Article