Jack Leach's Ashes prospects boosted by return of Ben Stokes

There is a template for a success from other left-arm spinners who have toured Australia

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Jack Leach will hope the balance of England's side works in his favour  •  SLC

Jack Leach will hope the balance of England's side works in his favour  •  SLC

The return of Ben Stokes to the England set-up is good news on many levels, but one person perhaps happier than most will be left-arm spinner Jack Leach.
Leach, who famously combined with Stokes at the dramatic conclusion of the Headingley Test in 2019, did not play a Test in the last English season (he has not played at home since the 2019 Ashes) largely because of the difficulty in balancing the side in Stokes' absence.
England tried to find a solution by recalling Moeen Ali after the first Test against India but that still left Leach on the outer. Leach's Test record is a more-than-creditable - 62 wickets at 29.98 from 16 games - he took 12 at 25.83 in the previous Ashes - 11 of which have come overseas.
Putting Stokes straight back into the Test cauldron at the Gabba will be something of a gamble given the lack of preparation - albeit the rain has made that an issue for a lot of players - but Leach's fortunes are closely intertwined with his presence.
"Stokesy being back is a great boost for all of us, in terms of the balance it really helps things out and is probably good news for the spin department," Leach said. "From the summer the feedback was that Stokesy not being in the side, having that all-round option in the top order, made it difficult for me to get into the side."
"Over the summer not playing I was thinking about this series so I feel like preparations have been ongoing and now it's about getting out there and doing it."
Leach is confident he will have enough bowling under his belt despite the disrupted build-up that has so far limited England to 29 overs of play.
The other dynamic at play in terms of Leach's place in the team is the inclement weather and what that might mean for the Gabba wicket although Shane Warne for one would laugh at the notion of not playing a spinner.
It is the bounce offered in Brisbane that can be as important as the turn - a factor that can extend to venues beyond the Gabba - and Leach has noted how Nathan Lyon has been able to forge an outstanding career.
"For years I've watched Nathan Lyon and he's very impressive, how he goes about his business," he said. "How strong his stock ball is on wickets that don't necessarily offer a lot spin-wise he's found ways to extract bounce, dip and all the other things. There's a lot of over-spin from him and those are the kind of things that I've been trying to add in but trying to stick to my strengths. You take little bits from everyone you play against."
A central plank of England's victory in 2010-11 was the role of Graeme Swann whose overall return of 15 wickets at 39.80 may seem modest but he won the Test in Adelaide on the final day and conceded just 2.72 an over which meant the scoreboard rarely got away.
Leach can also take some confidence from the role played by Ravindra Jadeja on India's last two tours of Australia and further back that of Keshav Maharaj and Paul Harris for South Africa.
"I don't think he [Jadeja] did too much different to what he does in India," Leach said. "That's another nice thing to see. He's taken what he does, is doing pretty similar things and having success. I also take a lot of confidence from bowling in England, against Australia in 2019.
"Definitely looking at those left-armers who have had success is a good thing. Offspin is totally different, [it's still] fingerspinner but different parts of the pitch bowling to right and left handers."
And while seamer-friendly conditions may not play in Leach's favour - the second Test is with the pink ball under lights in Adelaide - he can more than see the silver lining.
"I went for food with Broady and Anderson the other day and some guy came out afterwards and started saying 'I just want to wish you the worst of luck at the Gabba'. Then he said 'it's going to be a green seamer' and I was thinking, not sure that's the best sledge to two of the greatest bowlers England have ever had so I think they were pretty pleased about that."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo