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Remodelled Leach emerges stronger for the scrutiny

Jack Leach in action against West Indies A CWI Media

A bad round of golf didn't seem so frustrating for Somerset left-arm spinner Jack Leach when his phone rang last week. It was the call that told him to get on a plane to New Zealand after Mason Crane had been diagnosed with a stress fracture of his lower back.

"We'd had a couple of days' golf and I'd just played the worst round of my life," Leach said. "My golf's shocking. I don't even enjoy it, I won't pretend, and I'd just lost to [director of cricket] Andy Hurry. It was a bad day up until I got the call but it turned into a very good day."

For any player a maiden call-up to the senior side is a wonderful moment, but Leach can be afforded an extra dose of satisfaction. A year ago he was trying to rebuild his confidence having, to the surprise of many, been discovered to have an illegal bowling action. The problem was discovered in September 2016, during routine testing at the ECB academy in Loughborough, and the issue became public when he wasn't called up to the India squad later that year as an injury replacement for Zafar Ansari.

Now he is an injury or tactical decision away from a Test debut, which is just reward for the most prolific spinner in county cricket over the last two seasons with 116 wickets - 51 of them coming in 2017 as he settled into his new action.

"It wasn't until the back end of last season that I started to feel mentally back to normal," Leach said. "It was more the mental rather than the physical aspect of it, getting used to feeling like I could just bowl normally again. That I'd done the work and didn't have to control it in my mind because the last thing you want to do in a game is think about your action. You want to be focusing on how you're going to get them out so it was about doing that repetition in practice so I didn't have to think about it."

Leach has previously spoken about the fears he had of being labelled a chucker or cheat after the kink in his action was revealed. Over the last year he has worked with an ECB psychologist and believes in the long run the challenge he's been through will serve him well for a Test career.

"It's about having that resilience isn't it? The day it came out ... that was like a horrible thing for me, I hadn't had that exposure I guess. Up until then it had been all very positive - you're doing well in county cricket, no one knows a lot about you apart from your stats are good, so you just get praise. So to experience that before I'd actually played any international cricket or been involved with international cricket was actually quite good for me. I've learnt a little bit about that side of it as well.

"It made me understand my bowling a lot better, it's made me a better bowler ... having a stronger and smoother action was what was going to help me. It was only a good thing to find that out and something that's probably pushed me on."

Not only has Leach had to battle the issue over his action, he has also had to fend off suggestions he has had it a bit too easy due to the wickets at Taunton, which always felt a slightly odd argument when England's incumbent spinners were struggling to have much impact on pitches offering assistance.

"I'd be keen on more wickets [like Taunton]," he said. "It is a double-edged sword because you do get that 'can he only do it on turning wickets?' I know from when I've played away from home that I can do it away from home as well so I have no lack of confidence, I guess, away from Taunton or away from spinning wickets. It's about being adaptive and learning all those different things. I'd say bowling at Taunton has been a very good thing for me because it's given me more overs as a spinner which sometimes in England is tough for spinners. It's definitely progressed my career quicker, I would say. I also now look forward to bowling on flatter pitches to test my skills on those."

Leach has been involved with the Lions over the last five months, firstly in Australia and then West Indies. Down under was a challenging experience for him - he played for an England XI in a two-day game in Western Australia where he picked up four wickets but went at 10 an over during a run chase - however he learnt a lot from watching Nathan Lyon. The Caribbean brought considerable success despite the Lions being well beaten, as he claimed 18 wickets in the three four-day matches.

Moeen Ali has manfully carried England's spin-bowling role over his 49 Tests with some notable success at home, but plenty of toil overseas, with an Ashes bowling average of 115 a particular low point. Crane was given a debut in Sydney but is raw, and now faces time on the sidelines, while Adil Rashid has given up first-class cricket. With tours to Sri Lanka and West Indies next winter, two trips where spin will play a big role, there is a huge opportunity for Leach.

"I always believed that this was where I was hopefully going to get to. I definitely did," he said. "I think those little lower moments definitely made me stronger and definitely helped someone like me. No doubt there will be more. I try to learn not to get too emotional and just learn from every opportunity."