Jack Leach is using his challenging year-long absence from Test cricket as additional motivation this winter and says there is still room to improve after his second five-wicket haul for England.
Until the first Test in Sri Lanka the left-arm spinner had not featured for his country since his tour of New Zealand in late 2019 was ended by sepsis and a virus picked up during the subsequent trip to South Africa saw his close friend Dom Bess take his place in the team.
This 13-month break between caps has been complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic and Leach’s management of Crohn’s disease – the medication for which weakens his immune system – while the need for England’s backup players to stay in the bubble last summer meant just two first-class games for Somerset.
Figures of five for 122 from 41.5 overs on the fourth day in Galle therefore represented a fine reward for this long journey back and for his decision to bowl quicker as the day went on. But Leach, who had bowled just eight overs during England’s solitary warm-up match, was keeping any delight slightly tempered.
“I still expect quite a lot from myself and today, yes, it’s nice to have five but I understand I haven’t bowled as I might like this game,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s been hard graft and I’ve certainly felt a little bit rusty at times. The pleasing thing is I felt like I got better as the game went on, so hopefully that’s a good sign.
“The last 12 months haven’t been ideal but good to be out there, definitely. I try and use those [past] lows to propel me on to highs and it puts things into perspective. If I’m healthy and fit and able to play, that’s the main thing: I don’t take that for granted.
“Right now I feel pretty tired, the body is sore, but I’m just taking it a day at a time – one thing I’ve learned is you never know what is around the corner so I’m just trying to enjoy each day and see what happens.”
Bess, until recently Leach’s teammate at Somerset, picked up five for 30 on day one, the first time since Derek Underwood and John Emburey in 1982 – also in Sri Lanka – that two England spinners have picked up five-wicket hauls in the same Test match.
As well as the pair’s first Test in tandem highlighting the benefit of Taunton and its oft-maligned spinning pitch, the Somerset connection did not stop there, with Leach and Jos Buttler – another product of the county’s academy – combining for the latter’s first stumping in Test cricket when Dilruwan Perera was caught out of his ground.
Leach added: “On a wicket that has had a bit of bounce, Jos has done brilliantly. That stumping, I didn’t have much to do with it – it wasn’t one where the batsman came down the wicket. It was just quick work from him. I’m very thankful to him for the wickets where we teamed up.”