“By breaking the routine and by scripting a unique path towards success, Leach has shown that while the means to attain glory in cricket are diverse, perfecting the basics of hard work and dedication will always bear fruit”
Things would have been a lot different for Jack Leach if his County club Somerset had not decided to convert the pitches at Taunton into a spinning track, where the slower bowlers prevailed over the seamers. Though the club faced a lot of criticism three years ago, with rival club Middlesex even terming the ploy as “dreadful” and a move that threatened to stall the production of faster bowlers, Somerset’s thought-process was to be admired.
Not only did they realize that the best way to win a Championship was by going down a different path, but they also unknowingly provided England with a match-winner, whose efforts helped the national team win a Test series overseas after almost three years. Jack Leach, who self-admittedly had kept watching Rangana Herath bowl on slower decks to improve his bowling, learnt the subtle art of varying lengths while dissecting the Lankan’s bowling method. It was then unfortunate that the 27-year old was unable to show off his brilliance with Herath in the opposition camp, with the latter retiring after the end of the first Test.
With a First-Class average of 25.64, Leach, who has toiled his way to 231 wickets – with only 139 coming at Taunton – is the newest spin-entrant in the English camp, perfecting himself by adapting to various conditions and extracting spin even on the most hostile decks. He kept changing the position of his landing foot on the crease to not let the rival batsman settle down and realized the importance of spinning the ball – no matter how much it spun. By remaining patient and not giving in to frustration when faced with tracks that hardly helped him, Leach was taught the art of keeping a calm head and sticking to the basics under all circumstances, which is what helped him emerge as the wrecker-in-chief against the Lankans.
In his pre-lunch 11-over spell on Day Four, he made a mark with every delivery, inducing three edges, forcing players to play in the air while containing the flow of runs. Kaushal Silva was out stumped after a looped ball from Leach drifted into the opener before spinning away sharply, and Ben Foakes did well to effect a dismissal. Just 12 deliveries later, he got Dhananjaya de Silva off a beautiful catch by Keaton Jennings, and his third wicket, an LBW, which came off a tossed up delivery in front of the middle and leg ensured that Sri Lanka were reeling at 26 for 3, in pursuit of a tricky 301.
Even when Angelo Mathews settled down and the Lankans stitched together a partnership, Leach looked the most formidable of the bowlers, stalling the runs from one end. It allowed the other primary spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid to go for the wickets without the pressure of containing runs. Soon enough Ali had dismissed Mathews and first innings hero Roshen Silva, while Rashid scalped the wicket of Dimuth Karunaratne. Though the wickets were added in their tally, the role of Leach can in no way be ignored – he was the silent assassin who continued building pressure with an economy rate of 2.96, even as Ali and Rashid had rates of 3.79 and 3.06, respectively.
As he wrapped up the Sri Lankan innings on Day 5 by picking up the last wicket of Malinda Pushpakumara with a flighted delivery that was chipped straight down to the bowler by the batter, Leach completed his first five-wicket haul in his short Test career of 3 matches. It was not only a reward of his undying perseverance but also a triumph of the far-sightedness of his club Somerset, who had been courageous to break the shackles and play to their strengths.
Captain Joe Root acknowledged the club’s role in England’s first overseas win in 13 attempts by stating, “he’s taken all the experience that he’s had at Somerset bowling on those wickets at Ciderabad, or whatever they call it down there.”
By breaking the routine and by scripting a unique path towards success, Leach has shown that while the means to attain glory in cricket are diverse, perfecting the basics of hard work and dedication will always bear fruit.