Jack Leach, England’s senior spinner on the tour to South Africa, is to return home with immediate effect.
The Somerset left-armer has had the most ill-fated of winters. He has struggled to recover fully from sepsis which, it is now known, he picked up on the tour of New Zealand in November. Then before the Centurion Test he contracted the gastroenteritis and flu that hit the touring camp. Having endured Crohn’s disease, Leach has a weak immune system.
The announcement from the England and Wales Cricket Board read: “[Jack Leach] has not been able to reach the expected levels of fitness to be considered for selection.”
England’s medical team felt it would be better for him to return home to complete his recovery. He leaves South Africa on Thursday, the first day of the third Test.
“It has been an unfortunate time for Jack with illness and since the series in New Zealand six weeks ago he hasn’t been able to get 100% fit,” said the head coach, Chris Silverwood. “This has hampered his preparation in South Africa and, despite his best endeavours, he is not in a position to make himself available for selection for the last two Tests.
“His infectious personality and popularity will be missed. However, his focus has to be getting himself better and receiving the optimum levels of recovery and treatment, which is best served in England without any distractions. I have no doubt that he will return to full fitness in the medium term and hopefully he will recover in time for our tour to Sri Lanka in March.”
Silverwood will be especially anxious about Leach’s fitness for that Sri Lanka tour. Leach has looked likely to be the only survivor of the trio of spinners from the successful series of 14 months ago since both Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali are likely to be unavailable this time.
Rashid has been injured while Moeen, denied a Test match central contract, has other arrangements with the Pakistan Premier League when that Sri Lanka tour is taking place. Without Leach, who has performed excellently in his 10 Test appearances, the spinning cupboard really would look bare.
This week in Port Elizabeth Leach’s departure confirms the likelihood of his young Somerset colleague, Dom Bess, continuing as England’s specialist spinner in the third Test. Although Bess took only two wickets in the last Test at Newlands the frugality of his bowling was very helpful to Joe Root – and the expectation is he might score more runs this time. Bess endured the indignity of a pair in Cape Town.
There was more cheerful news for another of Leach’s Somerset colleagues, Lewis Gregory. He has been appointed captain of both the red- and white‑ball teams on the England Lions’ tour of Australia. The Lions squad is attending a preparation camp at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough. Among those sharing their experiences of the challenging conditions they will encounter in Australia are Tim Bresnan and Moeen. Given Leach’s current predicament, the ECB hierarchy might prefer Moeen to be concentrating more on playing for England than giving up his time to help the next generation.