It would be easy to understand that Jack Leach is not a cricketer who lives up to the mantra of Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes’ All Out Attack. You would think they would prefer a wrist spinner, or at least an aggressive off-spinner, not a slow left-handed player.
Matt Parkinson, 25, is a celebrity with an excellent first-class record, for whom England made an unexpected debut this month. Moin Ali is now 35 years old but is out of retirement and a strong option to take wickets. Adil Rashid, 34, could also join.
That feeling was exacerbated when Leach made a quiet start to the summer due to a small mistake and then lost the toss to England at Headingley, which was not a spinner’s paradise. He denied Leach, hesitated at Lord’s and felt the way back to Trent Bridge, bowling the fourth innings again. New Zealand is a weird fit for that, as they have four left-handed players – whom they find more difficult to remove – in their top eight.
This is a big week for Leach. He turned 31 on Wednesday and was offered a new cap by James Anderson before playing in his 25th Test, his first match at Headingley since the 2019 Ashes. But as soon as the game started, the toss, the position and the opposition all seemed to be working against it. With the apparent pressure on his place, he was presented with an important test – and passed.
Even Leach was not expected to pass 30 overs on the first day. This is the most he has bowled on the first day of a Test, and the most by a spinner on the first day of a Test in England this century.
Stokes, who has been reluctant to bowl on his own for unknown reasons (bowled with a full bow in the net on Wednesday after a knee injury and illness at Trent Bridge this week), made excellent use of the leach.
He brought him up early for the 13th over of the match, and he worked quickly, doing a great job for Will Young, who became LBW with his first ball. It was a sign of things to come. According to Crackways, Leach found an average increase of 1.6 degrees. The only home Test in which he scored more was at Old Trafford in 2019 (1.9), a game after the unforgettable Headingley game of 2019.
“It’s nice to come into the game early as a spinner, getting a quick wicket makes everything easier for you, you feel on the front foot right away,” he said. “Stokesy wanted to try to crush one side, to see if we could reverse the ball, but he said, ‘You’re just not ready for that.’ I have plenty to bowl today. There were all the overs which was good.
After lunch, Stokes brought Leach back from the rugby stand for a second spell, with a very short boundary under the ground, and let his spinner go with it. He bowled uninterruptedly, with a spell of 23-6-54-1, the wicket was a freak out of Henry Nichols, who was caught at mid-off by non-striker Daryl Mitchell through deflection.
Leach didn’t know it was out, or especially the wicket. But it was hard to shake a man who had a lot of health problems – headaches, cramps, sepsis – a bit of luck. However, he fully deserved Nicholas’ wicket by tying the left down (he scored only four runs off 33 balls).
Whatever the assumptions about his intentions, Leach is a spinner who has the full support of McCullum and Stokes.
Leach was happy with the way he bowled, especially against Trent Bridge, where his preparation was very limited due to a head injury and New Zealand scored quickly on him in a run-soaked game. One or two catches dropped from his bowling did not help him.
“It was an amazing game to be a part of, but I didn’t feel like I could bowl so well,” he said. “It could be behind the lead in this game. Today, I’m feeling good and I’m well on my way to work.”
Whatever the assumptions about his intentions, Leach is a spinner backed by McCullum and Stokes. Here, he did exactly what he wanted. The pressure on his place is mostly external, and he pointed to Australia’s legendary off-spinner Nathan Lyon to impress him, while Daniel Vettori – McCullum’s longtime partner – should be another.
They want their spinner to attack in the first half of the game and in the second half. For Leach, this represents a great start.