“When I came back to this hotel, I was like, ‘ah, bad memories coming here’,” Leach said, speaking from the lobby of the same hotel where three years ago a routine case of food poisoning turned into sepsis.
“Don’t fall asleep,” Leach, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, has recalled previously of his time in hospital. “You might not wake up.”
But, back again in 2023, he says he is having “too much fun” playing international cricket to mull over those times, as he returns to the country as England’s undisputed No1 spinner.
“I feel very different as a person from then,” the left-arm spinner said. “And I think I’ve been influenced by the environment I’m in now.”
The last 12 months have been a remarkable turnaround for a player who went from being in and out of the England side on any given occasion, to bowling 100 overs more than anyone else in Test cricket in 2022.
“I view things slightly differently, just how fun it is winning games,” Leach said. “I want to contribute to winning games. A lesson for me was taking 46 wickets in the year at 38.
“I would never think a 38 average would mean 46 wickets, I thought it would mean 20 wickets, two-and-a-half an over and not looking like taking a wicket.
“I still look at that and think, ‘I’d love that to be 31, 32, but I know the only way I can do that is by bowling better, not safer. I need to be braver.”
The change in fortunes has correlated with a period where he has been backed to the hilt by captain Ben Stokes, with the pair sharing a close personal relationship that is bearing professional fruits.
“It’s probably been the most important thing for me,” Leach said of Stokes’s backing. “Feeling like I belong. I know at some point someone might come along who’s better and take my place, and that will be absolutely fair enough. I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as I can and do as much as I can for the team.”
Under Stokes, England have won nine out of 10 Tests, and are currently in the midst of stripped-back preparations for a two-match series that begins on February 16.
Original plans were for England to play two two-day matches against a New Zealand XI, although the second of those has been cancelled in favour of optional practice, with the three-day training camp in Mount Maunganui and four-day golf trip in Queenstown that preceded their arrival in Hamilton deemed ample preparation. “I hate golf, but the other lads love it,” Leach said.
“We’re working a lot smarter as a team,” Leach added. “A lot of guys were away in January, but I used January and bowled a lot, so I don’t feel like I need a load of game time to be ready. But a taste of it is good.
“I certainly feel in previous tours, because I’ve worried more, I’ve probably overdone it and then peaked too early — and by the First Test I’m trying to hold onto that. Whereas [here] I think I’ve got a better chance of peaking at the right time.
“I think trust is a big thing in the group, and that’s working really well.”