Jack Leach has learned to take nothing for granted. He is England’s senior spinner while Moeen Ali takes an open-ended sabbatical. Yet even this status is not entirely reassuring.
In Hamilton this month he was omitted from the Test team when England opted for an all‑pace attack, augmented by two part-time spinners, against New Zealand; then he was laid low with a serious bout of gastroenteritis that led to him spending two nights in hospital. He is just about back to full strength as he sets off for South Africa on Friday.
Obstacles keep appearing in front of Leach, often without warning. Yet he has managed to view them all as challenges, providing opportunities for self-improvement. Just as he was beginning to break through as a first‑team cricketer for Somerset in 2014 he fell in his bathroom and had concussion for two months.
By 2017 and on the verge of England selection there were suddenly queries about the validity of his action, which came as a surprise to just about everyone – including himself. In 2018 he broke his thumb in the nets the day before he would have been selected for his first home Test; then there was another bout of concussion having been hit on the head by a Morné Morkel delivery. A lesser man might have been discouraged by now.
Yet despite all these trials Leach became a cult hero last summer after compiling arguably the greatest one not-out in the history of the game at Headingley while Ben Stokes was running amok at the other end. His glasses acquired a fame unrivalled since the heyday of Eric Morecambe and David Steele. The nation’s club cricketers immediately felt an affinity with Leach.
Whatever happens next he will always have that surreal Headingley afternoon. “I loved being part of that series,” he says. “I learned an awful lot in county cricket about the game. At international level you learn about your own game and yourself. It tests your character more than anything and that’s where I feel I’ve made big strides in the last 12 months.”
What about being a cult hero? “I was aware of all that stuff and it was really nice to experience but at the same time it was not a fair reflection of where I was with my cricket. I’m there to bowl and I only got one not out but just to be part of that day and to see how it affected so many was a special thing. People kept telling me where they were when it all happened. They didn’t even like cricket but they were following it.”
It is bizarre that Leach’s batting should be the most memorable element of his summer, though there were also 12 cheap Test wickets in that Ashes series. It was also a surprise as he acknowledges: “I had lost it with the bat but somehow I refound it under the highest pressure.”
The rehabilitation began when he made a career-best 92 as nightwatchman against Ireland. “I batted a lot of balls and was reminded of what I used to do. That innings made me feel like I belonged at Lord’s, that I deserved to be there. I remembered how to watch the ball and react rather than premeditate and get into some horrible positions.
“But could I do it against Australia when the bowlers were 10mph faster? I came to realise that if I trusted myself my system would work. Stand still, wait for the ball to be released and you will react if it’s coming at your head. You’ll get out of the way really quickly. Once you realise that, it’s a big hurdle out of the way.
“I’ve never been so focused as at Headingley. I never looked any further than the ball I was facing. Of course Stokes’s innings was incredible. Initially he said: ‘Watch hard and try to get to the end of the over.’ After that he told me how I was going to face one or two balls an over and to back up, to look for two.”
However, the runs came predominantly from stunning boundaries from Stokes’s bat. “When he played that reverse hit for six from a [Nathan] Lyon delivery landing in the rough, [Joe] Root was on the balcony with Jos Buttler, who was saying: ‘This guy’s a freak.’ ‘If Jos is saying that then this bloke must be pretty good,’ said Root.”
Leach knows it will never be like that again and that those hurdles will always crop up. “When I fell in the bathroom and my skull was fractured in two places I couldn’t watch much TV or read, so there was a lot of time to think. I was only 24 and I decided I wanted to play for England. I looked at [Graeme] Swann and realised he was 28 when he got in the team. There was plenty of time and there were not many spinners around. I decided there was nothing to lose; I would give it a go and work hard.”
Alongside the graft he has used his cricketing brain to progress. “I realised I needed to strengthen my action, so one winter I concentrated on getting more spin on the ball, the next on being able to bowl a little quicker. Maybe coping with doubts about my action was the hardest. I felt it was seen as cheating and I wasn’t trying to do that. But as a consequence I learnt so much about my action.”
It will not be easy for Leach in South Africa, either. The pitches rarely turn and the ball flies further through the thin air. But after 10 Tests and a highly respectable record Leach is now comfortable in an England shirt. He feels he belongs now and has the confidence of his teammates, which is half the battle.
He summons up one final positive. “In a way I’m pleased I’m going there from New Zealand. It can’t be worse [for spin bowlers or any type of bowler] than that, can it?”
Source link : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/dec/12/jack-leach-my-one-not-out-was-a-special-thing
Publish date : 2019-12-12 16:37:00