In Praise of Jack Leach

I wasn’t able to watch the last hour of the third test at Headingley yesterday so am in no position to opine about the greatness of Ben Stokes’ match winning innings.

But I did not need to watch that passage of play to know that English cricket saw exactly what us lucky folk who follow Somerset have seen in the last few years. The character and determination of Jack Leach.

It is all too easy for Leach to be taken lightly, slightly mocked for the manner he constantly cleaned his glasses in a “Specsavers Test”. Devalued for the fact that Ben Stokes reportedly couldn’t watch when Leach was on strike. If you do you are misjudging and misunderstanding the man.

To understand Jack Leach you have to go back to his route into the Somerset side. Not for him the talent pathway that the club had established several years previously and has been followed so noticeably by Dom Bess, Tom Banton, The Overton twins and will soon deliver Lewis Goldsworthy’s left arm bowling upon championship batting line-ups.

Leach’s route to the Somerset first XI was via Bishop Foxes School, Taunton Deane Cricket Club and Cardiff MCCU.

By 2016 he had almost bowled Somerset to a first ever Championship an almost reluctant and most definitely reticent figure among the bigger personalities of that Somerset dressing room and was ready for a winter with the England Lions.

That route from Somerset to the England side was equally challenging. Not for our Jack the easy progression to the England Lions and on into the first team. But his experiences further forged the determination Leach showed yesterday afternoon in Leeds..

In the autumn of 2016 the biomechanics experts detected a “kink” in his bowling action which required a fundamental re-work. In typical fashion he worked diligently to remedy the perceived defect and professed himself a better bowler for the experience. There was no rancour or recrimination just a desire to do what was necessary to succeed.

In early 2018 Leach was about to be called up to the England squad for that summer’s first test against Pakistan at Lords having made his debut the previous winter in New Zealand. On the Monday before the test he broke his thumb is a warm-up batting drill before the final day of Somerset’s Championship game against Hampshire.

Dom Bess, Somerset’s other prodigiously talented spinner took Jack’s place in the test side. Jack couldn’t have been happier for his teammate and true to character showed no bitterness at the cruel twist of fate that had set him back again.

Leach’s return to the Somerset side, away to Surrey in a pivotal game in last year’s championship resulted in concussion when batting against Morne Morkel. Again Leach was the victim of cruel bad luck.

For the rest of last season his batting, understandably, suffered. In May he had shown glimpses of his batting skills with 66 batting at number 8 in a rearguard action which earned a Somerset side without the injured Marcus Trescothick a draw at Old Trafford.

But his bowling was superb. He bowled Somerset to crucial wins in the Championship run-in, most notably against Essex at Taunton. We folk of Somerset who saw those performances knew that this was a bowler who would succeed at the highest level, but of course the lazy narrative of pitches prepared to suit Leach at “Ciderabad” drew wider credence.

Just stop and think about that for a moment. Somerset’s pace attack contains Craig and Jamie Overton and Lewis Gregory, three of the very best on the circuit. Against an Essex side containing Simon Harmer would you prepare a surface to suit spin over seam? It is either an act of folly, a measure of the huge belief Somerset have in Leach, or, utter rubbish.

Leach spent, by his own admission a lot of time over the winter working on his batting under the expert tutelage of another bespectacled left-hander of these parts, M E Trescothick. Leach, who has ambitions to play white ball cricket for his county knew he could improve his batting and invested heavily in doing so.

As he walked to the wicket yesterday afternoon I am sure Jack Leach would, in his quiet understated way, have believed in himself. Where the rest of the England lower order had failed he would have been utterly determined to succeed. That he did was of no surprise to Somerset supporters whatsoever.

Will the limelight into which his batting has thrust him phase him? Absolutely not. He will want desperately, before this season is out to bowl England to an Ashes win and will, I suspect be desperate to play in Somerset’s final game of the season at Taunton. But before now and the fourth test he will be back doing his normal things around the town.

Remember after the Ireland test, with no first-class game the following weekend he turned out for his club side, Taunton Deane to help them in their own title bid. Such is the man.

If, at the end of September England have regained the Ashes, Somerset won their first ever County Championship to follow Taunton Deane sealing their own title over the weekend, Jack Leach will, genuinely find it hard to say of which he is most proud.