Spinner on the lookout for “as many games as imaginable” having not played home Test since 2019
Jack Leach has spoken of his frustrations at being left out of the Test side against New Zealand earlier in the summertime, in addition to a bit-part role in the England set-up that has only seem him play five home Tests since his debut all through the winter of 2017-18.
England were beaten 1-0 by New Zealand – their first Test series defeat at home since 2014 – after relying on a four-seamer attack supported by Joe Root’s part-time offspin. With England’s main seam-bowling allrounder options, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, either injured or not thought to be for selection after returning from the IPL, the question of how to balance the side at Lord’s and Edgbaston meant Leach sitting out on both occasions.
Having been England’s most-successful bowler over the winter, taking 28 wickets at 31.14 in Sri Lanka and India, he returned to the sidelines back in home conditions. Leach also missed out on selection final summer, with Dom Bess preferred in the spinner’s role, and it is now nearly two years since his final Test appearance in England, all through the 2019 Ashes.
England’s stated aim under Chris Silverwood, who took over at head coach in 2019, has been to play more of their home cricket on true surfaces, to be able to reinforce performances in another country. But Leach has had little possibility to practice the holding role that would then enable a more attacking brief later in the game.
“I think I said to Spoons it was once frustrating, because I need to be playing as many games as imaginable at that level,” Leach said. “I guess the object I’ve struggled with over the last couple of years has been that momentum of playing games, and feeling like you’re learning from those experiences. You’ll do as much as you wish to have in the nets, but you wish to have to put that into a game situation. There are things you aren’t getting in the nets that you only get in games.
“That was once the frustrating object. I understood it from a team point of view, on the subject of the balance of the team. Whether it had been three seamers and a spinner, that would have been the first time I’d have played in that balance of team. Even at Somerset we’re playing with four seamers, and even a batter who bowls seam, Tom Abell, or Tom Lammonby, who bowls left-arm seam. My experience hasn’t been in that balance of team, so having not done that before, it would have been a enormous challenge which I’d have loved to do, but I understand why they would like four seamers, particularly in England.
“From the point of view of just playing games, I used to be frustrated not to play, and they were wickets I felt I could have had a positive have an effect on on the game.”
Even supposing Leach conceded that he was once unlikely to see surfaces as helpful as those encountered in Galle, Chennai and Ahmedabad, he said he enjoyed bowling in England and that pitches “usually are reasonably dry in reality”, thanks to improved drainage. With five Tests scheduled against India in August and September, he stands a good chance of a return in the coming weeks – albeit Stokes’ withdrawal from the series will further complicate selection.
But with the height of the summer now dominated by white-ball cricket – there were just two rounds of the Championship scheduled between June 6 and August 30 – he conceded it had been tough to receive himself into rhythm ahead of the first Test, starting next week at Trent Bridge.
“That has been the hardest challenge for me mentally: feeling like I’m getting enough overs in games. I think even in the first block of Championship games in April/May, I used to be playing on some reasonably seam friendly wickets so in reality the amount of overs I bowled, even supposing I used to be playing, was once not that many. And I had to perform a little isolation which meant I missed a Championship game and the day after I used to be playing at Surrey.
“Mentally it has been a bit tough trying to work out where I am getting enough game overs and get that confidence. It was once nice to play at The Oval against Surrey and take some wickets. That gave me some confidence and finish off this white-ball period then we are into the Test matches. I feel good [but] it is at all times that challenge to receive enough game time as you go along.”Leach was once overlooked earlier in the summertime PA Images via Getty Images
Of Stokes’ decision to take time absent from the game, Leach said: “The entire lads are in the back of Ben and supporting him where we will. He has shown courage and bravery to prioritise his mental health. He’s a focal a part of our team and we can overlook him.
“His precedence is to take a while out from the game to get well. We will’t wait to welcome him back in the close future and winning games of cricket for England.”
Leach has not played a Test this summer, but he did make his T20 debut, a day after turning 30, taking 5 for 60 across two Blast outings for Somerset. Having been on the end of a brazen Rishabh Pant assault in the first Chennai Test back in February – he conceded 71 off just seven overs before coming back to finish with 2 for 105 in India’s first innings – he said that greater involvement in white-ball cricket was once more than just a way of passing time.
“It’s more or less a game I did not have much connection with actually, on the subject of not being involved at all in preceding years, and something I wasn’t certain I used to be capable of doing, and I used to be intrigued to see if what I do in the longer format could work. So, yeah, it was once nice to play and win both games, and I took a couple of wickets, which was once good.
“The nice object was once I used to be coming in on wickets they thought might spin, so I haven’t had to experience the flat ones yet in T20 cricket. But, yeah, it’s provided me confidence that I will be able to play that format. And also I probably feel like I’ve got nothing to lose in that format, and it’s picking up skills and reading batters when they come after you, and the use of that that can assist you even in the Test match game.
“In that first game in India when Pant was once coming after me, I experienced that and felt like whether I’d played more one-day cricket, I might have a little bit more nous in those situations. I’ve had a focus this summer on being around those white-ball teams, and a minimum of practising white ball in the nets and experiencing batters coming after me. Gaining a couple of more skills that way. I think it can help me in all formats.”
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick