The Cricketer
James Coyne James Coyne

JACK LEACH INTERVIEW

JAMES COYNE SPEAKS TO THE SPINNER IN WAITING

When it comes, it seems unlikely the renaissance of this country’s spin bowling will be brought about by doosras, carrom balls or flippers. This is England – so it’s far more likely it will be someone landing the ball on the stumps, ball after ball. All the more so in the world of DRS.

It was only late in the 2015 season that Jack Leach, then 24, became Somerset’s first-choice spinner in the County Championship, when they dropped their overseas spinner Abdur Rehman. Leach missed much of that season after fainting in his bathroom in unseasonably hot weather, and sustaining head injuries. When he did play, he tended to be saved for late in the season, as conditions for much of the rest were not exactly conducive to spinners.

Then, ahead of 2016, came the change in the Championship toss regulation – giving the away side the right to put the home side in before the coin was taken. In April and May, most counties produced flat and docile pitches. But, when the sun emerged and the wickets dried out, spinners were lured from their caves. Leach remembers the home game against Surrey at the end of May as the first time his team came to rely on him in such conditions.

“At Taunton we’ve always been searching for a way to get results, and if you make it green it tends to flatten out anyway,” he said. “But the toss change made a difference. It brought me into the game in a big way.

“The first I remember is the Surrey game. The pitch had quite a lot of grass but was dry underneath. I didn’t know it was going to spin like it did. From there it happened. I remember feeling quite a lot of pressure to be the man to take the wickets – for the first time, really.

“[Gareth] Batty got seven-for in our first innings. And I thought, ‘I’ve blown it here’. But we won the game, which was good. I had a hand with the bat [24 not out from No.10]. And I learned a lot about dealing with the pressure of bowling on turning pitches.

“Taunton’s got the nickname Ciderabad. We’re happy with that. I’ve enjoyed bowling there and we’ve got some good results. We didn’t lose any points so obviously it was OK. I don’t know how close we were to [a points penalty]. There must be a limit, but the toss situation was to try to bring spinners through and get batters better at playing spin.”

Although Leach says he had won the trust of Matthew Maynard, the director of cricket, he admits that captain Chris Rogers had a frank conversation with him during the Surrey game. Rogers, a widely respected Australian former Test player, has gone on record to say that he thinks Leach could do with another season to prove himself ready for Test cricket.

“I think he feels [I could do with] a bit of time on the Lions to bridge that gap between first-class and international cricket. I feel I do have confidence in what I do. It’s just more inward. Maybe that gives different impressions to different people. I was quite down after that third innings against Surrey [Leach had taken 4 for 63 in 31 overs]. But I’ve come on from that. We had an honest conversation about it. I know he was coming from the right place.

“Anyway, I don’t know when you’re ready? Is it when you’re ready to do well, or when you’re ready to take doing badly? A lot comes with it [playing for England] – the media and so on.”

Just as intriguing is Leach's route into the game. He did not go to an independent school – as so many current English first-class cricketers have – nor did he have a family steeped in playing the game, although he does say his father, Simon, did deter him from switching to seam in his youth. In the past, Leach has worked at a Sainsbury's in Taunton, pushing trolleys.

And he seems eager to learn. Leach, realising he needed to keep progressing in order to be selected and prosper in Test cricket, has worked with some of the most successful recent practitioners of spin in the English game. Graeme Swann recently spent time working with Leach and other spinners in the England Lions set-up at Loughborough, ahead of the current tour of the UAE.

England have thus far preferred Surrey's Zafar Ansari, and after he got injured, Liam Dawson, to provide the possibility of a left-arm spinner's turn away from the right-handers.

“I had a good chat with Swanny about bowling on different pitches round the world,” says Leach. “I want to get the right pace for each pitch. On turning pitches you just have to put the ball in the right area. You don’t have to make things happen because the pitch will do it for you. You look to make them play every ball: hit off stump all the time and you’re going to get results.

“And I feel I can become a better bowler on flat wickets, from bowling on spinning wickets. [Swann] talked about how his mindset would be different from day one to day five. He’d break down and construct his spell into smaller parts, rather than the bigger tasks. Then day five he’s a lot more patient. His mentality was: I’m going to bowl until we bowl them out. He knew his role and exactly what he needed to do.”

Cutbacks at the National Cricket Performance Centre has freed up budget for the ECB to hire specialist consultants like Jeetan Patel and Daniel Vettori to work with English spinners. But Leach said he had already taken it upon himself to seek out Patel – by common consent the best spinner in county cricket – whenever Somerset played Warwickshire.

“I have a good relationship with him. I talk to him after games for his thoughts on how I’m bowling. We’ve had some good battles against Warwickshire and we enjoy taking each other on. He gives me the odd text to say ‘well done’. If I hadn’t been called up to the Lions this winter I might have been going to New Zealand to do a bit of work with him.

“When he first saw my bowling he was very complimentary, as was Swanny. You feel like it has a lot of meaning. I asked questions about actions, because they both have very strong actions. Jeetan bowls at 60mph and gets good turn. It’s important I learn what I can from each spinner I talk to.”

As for Somerset, the gamble to play on spinning pitches almost paid off. They beat Nottinghamshire at home in their last game – their fifth victory in the last seven, three at home. The problem was that Middlesex and Yorkshire were playing each other at Lord’s, and with the Championship title on the line, each pledged a draw was out of the question.

“We were all watching at Ciderabad,” remembers Leach. “We were all pretty hungover. It was going quite well for a bit when Eski [Steve Eskinazi] was on nought off 26 balls. But we all knew something was going to happen, and when Yorkshire started throwing it up I couldn’t watch anymore. I went into town with Treges [Peter Trego] and got a coffee instead. We’d thought a few weeks out from that game that it was a good thing Middlesex and Yorkshire would play each other in the last match, but it turned out to be a bad thing.”