After a stellar 2016 County Championship campaign, Somerset left-arm spinner Jack Leach was overlooked for England’s winter tours in the subcontinent and then told his action needed remedial work. With England still on the lookout for a Test spinner, Leach tells Phil Walker his action is “stronger and smoother” than ever.
Only in England. Only in England could we acquire a classical left-arm spinner and treat the news like an imposition. Only in England could a young bowler, after 65 wickets in his first full season, be damned as a stooge in a stitch-up doctored-pitch conspiracy, then overlooked for any senior tours and told to remodel a part of his action despite never having received any indication from any coach, captain or umpire that there may be the slightest issue with the straightness or otherwise of his bowling arm.
Only in England.
It was October. Jack Leach was up at Loughborough doing routine testing. He’d already been passed over as one of England’s four spin options for the winter.
“It was a big shock,” he says, of the news that the bend in his arm as he prepared to release was over the 15-degree limit. “My arm was going a long way behind my body, so when my elbow got to shoulder height, it was quite far behind my body and the shape it was creating was meaning that it had to bend at that point, because the stress on my shoulder was too much.
“They take the measurement from the wrist to your elbow to your shoulder, and then the angle when you release, and it’s the difference between those two. I’m dead straight when I release, but because my arm was far behind my body it was having to bend, and therefore it was over 15 degrees.”
The remedial work began. Leach is keen to stress this was by no means the technical overhaul that has neutered other kinky spinners, but “minor changes” that he believes have helped him bowl more efficiently. “It’s going to make my action stronger and smoother. It’s still spinning, and the accuracy’s there. If anything the old way was probably hindering me. Now I’m on a smoother circle – everything’s going towards the target. There is a tag that a guy that’s ‘over’ [the 15 degrees] and has to come under is going to struggle to ever come back from it – but I don’t feel that at all. I feel it’s the opposite for me.”
It remains to be seen. For the sake of English cricket, crying out for a Test spinner worthy of the name, Leach is precisely the sort of talent that needs nurturing. No Englishman took as many wickets in the top tier of the County Championship last year. Only Jeetan Patel, from one more match, took more overall.
And yet the murmurs persisted, that Taunton – cannily yet sneeringly nicknamed ‘Ciderabad’ – was so skewed in favour of slow bowlers that Leach was some kind of trickster. A prominent ex-England batsman, when asked about him in September, dismissed him out of hand. Only in England. Yet when Leach had gone to Lord’s in May, he’d taken five wickets in the only innings in which he bowled. And in September, in a huge pressure game at spinners’ graveyard Headingley, he cleaned up with six second-innings wickets to nail a big win.
As a young player, Leach was “that guy who bowled a lot of left-arm spin”. That was him, so he “never really got that opportunity to bat”. Only in England. He’s now having to catch up, and though he professes to be “quietly excited” about where his batting can potentially go – he has one century in his life, made for Somerset Second XI – it’s at least enabled him, like Monty Panesar before him, like Phil Tufnell and John Childs before that, to bring “real focus” to his chosen art. “If you’re concentrating on too many things you can struggle to master one.”
In some ways he’s a throwback. Bespectacled, gawky, wedded to his arcane craft. He studies all the others – Vettori, Bedi, Panesar, Murali Kartik, Abdur Rehman – and has YouTubed them all. “I see it as an art and I want to master that art.”
He has a way to go, of course. Chris Rogers, his captain last summer at Somerset, alluded to it in September when suggesting, in light of a mooted England call-up, that “emotionally” Leach had “a bit of a way to go”. Leach asked Rogers about those comments. Rogers told him that an international cricketer needs to be ready for what is thrown at him from outside the boundary rope as
well as inside. “And that’s fair enough. Last year was my first full season. I’ve got a lot more to do.”
This winter Leach got a few games for England Lions, nine wickets from four matches, including 3-7 in a List A game against the UAE. After the joys (and last-day heartache) of last season, reality has kicked in somewhat. The first division has never looked tougher, and teams will know his name now. He will be targeted, he says – “which comes with a certain pressure”. Already the big boys will be lining up to take him down. Only in England. “But I love that now,” he adds quickly.
For our full ‘Ten to Watch’ for 2017, pick up a copy of issue 151 of the magazine.