After 14 challenging months out of international cricket Jack Leach enjoyed a wearying but worthwhile return to help England’s push for victory in the first Test against Sri Lanka.
The left-arm spinner claimed five for 122 on the fourth day in Galle, including the last four wickets to fall, to leave his side chasing just 74 for the win.
The value of his haul became ever clearer as the tourists lost their first three wickets for just 14 in a frenzied final passage of play, with England needing 36 more on the final morning following a settling stand between Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence.
Leach was worn out after sending down 41.5 overs in sweltering conditions, no surprise given he has managed only two first-class outings for Somerset since he last represented his country in November 2019.
Shortly after that he fell ill, eventually fearing for his life after contracting sepsis and was again laid low on the subsequent tour of South Africa. The medication he takes to manage his Crohn’s disease also means he is seen as vulnerable to Covid-19, a challenge throughout the domestic season, so he was more than happy to take a few aches and pains on the big stage.
“It’s been hard on the body. Right now I feel pretty tired and sore,” he said.
“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.
“It’s nice to get five and I feel I’ve got better as the game has gone on, which is a good sign. I try and use those lows to propel me on to highs and it puts things into perspective.
“I had sepsis in New Zealand, so that wasn’t a great time for me and then went to South Africa and picked up illness there. It was a tough time so it’s been about building back up slowly and I think I am over that now. Hopefully now about getting as much cricket in as possible
“If I’m healthy and fit and able to play, that’s the main thing because I don’t take that for granted.”
Leach is fondly remembered for his one not out alongside match-winner Ben Stokes during the famous Ashes win at Headingley in 2019, but will be hoping he will not be required with the bat on Monday.
When Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and captain Joe Root conspired to fall inside six overs of the fourth innings it looked as though everyone would be needed, though a stumps score of 38 for three tilted the scales back again.
Leach was in good spirits as he assessed the final equation, backing Bairstow and his debutant partner Lawrence to see their side home.
— ICC (@ICC) January 17, 2021
“I’m happier now with 38 on the board,” he said.
“On pitches like these there’s always hard periods, but I thought Jonny and Dan got through that period really well and scored when they could. I know Dan a little bit from England Lions and playing against him in county cricket and I don’t think he feels an awful lot of pressure. He is quite a confident guy and he backs his game. I think we consolidated really well and it feels like we can come back and get the remaining runs.”
Leach shared a word of praise for his old Somerset team-mate Jos Buttler, whose sharp glovework to dismiss Dilruwan Perera brought him a first stumping in Test cricket after 28 games as wicketkeeper.
“He’s done brilliantly. I didn’t have much to do with it,” he said.
“It was quick work from him and I’m very thankful to get a couple of wickets where we teamed up.”