Matthew Jack Leach
June 22, 1991, Taunton, Somerset
Left hand bat
Slow left arm orthodox
Bishop Fox's School, Richard Huish College
There were moments - not least when he was cleaning his glasses between deliveries - during his remarkable 10th-wicket partnership with Ben Stokes at Leeds in 2019 when Jack Leach looked somewhat out of place amid the athleticism and audacity of Test cricket.
But he had earned his place in the side. And, as he showed in holding up an end and helping Stokes add 70 to win that match, he was a tough and determined cricketer with the talent and temperament for the top level.
By that stage, Leach had replaced Moeen Ali in the Test team. Perhaps he did not have Moeen's pace or drift or potential with the bat. But he was, by mid 2019 anyway, a bit more reliable and offered his captain control in the field. And, as he showed by making an unlikely and vital 92 as nightwatchman opener in the Test against Ireland, he seemed to have the character to raise his game when his team needed it most. He finished the Ashes with 12 wickets at a cost of 25.83 apiece and an economy-rate in Test cricket almost a run better an over than Moeen's.
Leach had been the unexpected star of the 2016 County Championship. Thrust to prominence by Somerset's decision to gamble on turning wickets at Taunton, and put relegation fears to bed, his left-arm spin proved so destructive that they entered the last day of the Championship season on top of the table and hoping that they might win a first-ever title. It was not to be, as Middlesex pipped them, leaving Leach to reflect on a mighty season in which he took 65 wickets at 21 apiece. A slight figure with a high bowling action, thin of hair and tidy of beard, he bowled in spectacles, a rare thing in 2016, giving him the air of a slightly apologetic junior accountant.
Many presented Leach as an attractive pick for England's Test tours of Bangladesh and the Caribbean, but after his season's best figures of 6-42 had set up the defeat of the defending champions, Yorkshire, at Headingley, Somerset's captain Chris Rogers warned of the need for caution. "I am still a big believer that you need more than one good season to play for England," Rogers said. "With Jack, I think his game's in order, I think emotionally he still has a bit of a way to go. He is still a young guy, he has only ever been in Somerset and the challenges in international cricket are a lot more difficult. If they pick him then good luck to him but they'd better look after him."
The debate was then stilled when routine tests on his action at Loughborough revealed a kink early in his action that meant he exceeded the 15 degree limit on the straightening of his arm. Remedial work took time. He was ineffective on an England Lions trip to Sri Lanka and began the county season tentatively. Six wickets against Warwickshire - although he did not feel he bowled well - gave him heart, match figures of 9 for 141 against Lancashire at Taunton saw a true return to form and in the final match of the season, in partnership with the young offspinner Dom Bess, he bowled excellently on another Taunton turner to keep Somerset up and send Middlesex down in their place. He lost an Ashes place on a split vote, but he had turned his year.
Leach made a solid Test debut in Christchurch in 2018, but broke a thumb at the start of the England season and instead had to watch his Somerset colleague, Dom Bess, debut against Pakistan, followed by a surprise Test recall for Adil Rashid who was on a white-ball only contract with Yorkshire. "The thing with me is there's always a tough time around the corner," he remarked. He roared back with a career-best 8-85 against Essex at Taunton to win a place on the Sri Lanka Test tour.
There, as part of a three-man spin attack, he finished as England's top wicket-taker - equal with Moeen - as England secured a three-nil series victory and claimed a maiden five-wicket haul in Kandy.
Leach was born in Taunton and first taken to the county ground to watch Somerset when he was a few days old. He told his father as a youngster that he wanted to be a fast bowler, but his father demurred. So it was that he developed through the Somerset youth system as a spinner. He played in the same U-13, U-15 and U-17 sides as Jos Buttler, also gaining England U-15 honours, but while Buttler was always destined for stardom, Leach was obliged to take a job parking trolleys at a branch of Sainsbury's supermarket in Taunton. He helped Dorset to victory in the 2010 Minor Counties Championship - he claimed 6-21 in Lincolnshire's second innings - and then played for Cardiff MCCU in 2011 and 2012. His first-class debut actually came for the MCCU against Somerset in April 2012: Leach delivered 41 wicketless overs as Somerset amassed 642 for 3.
Later that season he made his Somerset first-team debut in a two-day match against South Africa and bowled Hashim Amla. He subsequently made his Championship debut in Liverpool and performed respectably - he claimed 3-37 from 18 overs in the second innings - but with Somerset already having another left-arm spinner, the highly-rated George Dockrell, on the staff and then signing Pakistan's Abdur Rehman for the latter part of the season, opportunities were limited.
After spending the winter playing club cricket in Brisbane - he helped his side win the local T20 competition - he started the 2013 season in the Championship side due to an injury to Dockrell. He claimed 5-63 against Warwickshire but, despite heading the club's bowling averages that season, again struggled for opportunities as Somerset signed another spinner - Piyush Chawla - as an overseas player towards the end of the season.
He had to wait until the end of August to break into the Championship side in 2014, but again bowled with admirable control when given the opportunity. He signed a new contract at the end of the season, aware that with Rehman returning for 2015 and Dockrell eager for more first team cricket, opportunities may be scarce. Instead, by the end of the season, it was Leach's stock that had risen thanks to a return of 11 for 180 in the final Championship match against Warwickshire, a game in which Somerset secured First Division survival. It was a great fillip so soon after a return from serious injury that had wrecked his season - his head fractured in two places and concussion after he fainted in his bathroom during the night. Asked if he expected to be unnerved by fast bowling, he memorably replied that he was more worried about going for a wee.
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