England have a new cricketing hero, or at least they will do if England improbably bowl Ireland out for under 182 at Lord’s today. Gratifyingly that new hero is one of Somerset cricket’s favourite sons, a Tauntonian by the name of Jack Leach.
Having been bowled out for 85 in their first innings on Wednesday morning England were required to bat for one over at the close of the day’s play. Leach, as the designated night watchman was required to open the batting and survive the 6 balls of the England second innings.
This, remarkably, is the second time in. brief test career that Leach has had to do this. The first time in Sri Lanka last winter Leach survived the closing over but perished for 0 the following morning.
This innings was different. Leach completed his initial task, of seeing off the first spells of the Irish new ball bowlers in some style. The first English wicket to fall was that of the regular opener, Rory Burns, by which time Leach was already well into double figures. Incredibly he also outlasted the other opener, Jason Roy, who departed for 72 when England had reached 171 well into the afternoon session.
Leach departed 11 runs later falling just short of what would have been a quite remarkable hundred, not only because he was the night watchman but also because his batting this year for Somerset has been pretty poor, averaging 4.66 in the championship, he has only scored 911 runs in 80 first class matches!
Leach’s performance yesterday is even more remarkable when you consider the rest of the England top order (excluding Roy) amassed 56. Leach now has an average of 46 opening the batting for England!
Leach, to my eternal pride is not only from my home town but also developed as a cricketer at my former club, Taunton Deane. His route to the Somerset first team has been different to the “talent pathway” the club set up over a decade ago, coming through the club / university route rather than the academy and age groups.
That route is testament to the fact that Leach is made of real fibre. You could argue that is expected in someone playing sport at the very highest level but if you saw Jack walking down the street I guarantee you wouldn’t pick him out as a professional cricketer. Bespectacled, bald and, by modern standards, small of stature Leach is as unassuming in personality as he is in appearance.
Leach has had a fair share of bad luck in his rise to international recognition. He was devastated at the end of the 2016 season when a “fault” was found in his action which necessitated a rebuilding process. Many wiser than me thought Leach was very harshly treated. But he went away and did the hard work to rectify the alleged fault coming back stronger in 2017 for Somerset.
By the early part of the 2018 season Leach was in the forefront of the selectors’ minds when on the eve of selection for the first test of the summer he broke his thumb in the warm ups before the last day of Somerset’s championship game against Hampshire at Taunton. Leach’s place was taken by his Somerset teammate Dom Bess who scored a 50 and gave a very good account of himself.
Further misfortune struck when Leach was hit by a Morne Morkel bouncer in June last year. The short-term result was that he missed a couple of games under the new concussion protocol but the longer-term effect has clearly been on his confidence with the bat. Jack has over the winter spent a huge amount of his time on fitness and his batting and while the results up until yesterday had not manifested themselves we all hope that this is the beginning of the ripening of the fruit of all that hard work.
Leach is beloved in Somerset. He is just the sort of cricketer we love, modest, unassuming, loyal and extremely talented. He is considered the premier spinner in Somerset, harsh on Bess, but has proved time and again he has the talent at county level. If he can relax in the surroundings of test cricket there is every chance he will take a lot of international wickets.
Initially Leach has a big role to play at Lord’s, wouldn’t it be recompense for him if after missing out on the batting honours board yesterday he bagged 5 wickets to get his name etched on the bowling equivalent.
Whether this would be enough to get him into the side for next week’s first Ashes test is open to debate. But the welcome back in Taunton will be even warmer whatever.