Leach churned through 94.5 overs for his six wickets in last week’s second Test in Bridgetown, the heaviest workload for an England bowler since Tony Lock sent down 115 overs against Pakistan in Dhaka in 1962. However, Leach was ultimately thwarted by the broad blade of Kraigg Brathwaite, who broke a record of his own in facing 673 balls in the match, the most by a West Indian in Test history.
Nevertheless, after his demoralising experiences in 2021 – a year which was bookended by a pair of maulings at the hands of Rishabh Pant in Chennai and Australia’s top-order at Brisbane, and encompassed a home Test summer in which he once again didn’t play a single match – Leach is just happy to be in the thick of the action once again.
“I’m trying to become the frontline spinner for England and I see the last couple of weeks as really valuable for my development on that road,” Leach said. “It won’t be too long before I turn those three-fors into five-fors, especially in the second innings.”
At a venue that has traditionally been tough for fingerspinners, Leach was crashed for five sixes and eight fours by the likes of David Warner and Travis Head – a performance that caused him to miss the second Test at Adelaide on a surface that ought to have suited his methods.
“Brisbane was…I felt horrible,” he said. “Not a good moment but I think I trained the next day actually after the game, thanks to Jeetan Patel who said ‘let’s do something about it rather than stew’. Australia was a really tough trip for everyone but I did feel like I learned a lot and I came back really motivated and buzzing.
“It’s been nice to play back to back games,” he added. “This is what I want to be doing – playing and contributing. I’m trying to offer as much as I can and maybe I wasn’t doing that so much before. I felt I was playing for my spot.”
Though the series remains locked at 0-0, there have been signs of a renewed spirit within the England team, with the likes of Dan Lawrence and Saqib Mahmood embracing the new “team first” mantra with wholehearted displays at Bridgetown, to back up a brace of hundreds from Joe Root, and a welcome return to form from Ben Stokes, who made his 11th Test century and his first for 18 months in the first innings.
And, Leach said, an effort had also been made to build his self-belief within the squad – a team for which he earned cult status with his crucial part in Stokes’ Headingley miracle in 2019, but for which he admitted to feeling a peripheral figure more recently, having not played a home Test since that same Ashes series three years ago.
“That’s been the message to everyone really,” Leach said. “It’s all about the team and we all have a voice. Before I felt a lot of pressure on my own game and you forget you are contributing to something bigger.
“It almost takes the pressure off your own game. I said openly to the group here that at Somerset I feel I belong, so I feel more comfortable giving my points of view. Maybe because I felt I belonged in terms of what I offer on the cricket field.
“We wouldn’t be here if we are not good enough cricketers, but we can offer in different ways. I want to offer with wickets, but if I’m not, I want to be awesome in the field and try to score runs. I think maybe I got it a bit wrong beforehand. Not on purpose but I felt I was playing for my spot.”
The next step in Leach’s development will be to trust himself to be more attacking with the ball. He conceded just 154 runs in his 94.5 overs in Bridgetown – a testament to his impressive control. But by his own admission he was guilty at times of firing the ball through too quickly, particularly when it got older. And to that end, he’s looking to Swann’s influence – the most attacking spin bowler in England’s recent history, and a man who claimed 255 wickets in 60 Tests between 2008 and 2013.
“A big focus for me now is having that attacking mindset, always looking to take wickets,” he said. “I’ve been guilty of easing into spells, earning the right to bowl and going at two an over. But that’s a negative mindset.
“I’ve watched YouTube videos of Swann and how attacking that looks. I don’t know what he was thinking – in fact I do know, it’s “how am I trying to get this guy out?” and sometimes the first 20 balls against a batter is your chance.”
“But even if it doesn’t happen and I’m bowling 60 overs, it’s important to keep that mindset. There are times when the pitches here have felt very unresponsive, especially when the ball is older; the newer ball grips and [on some days] the pitches have felt tacky early on and spin.
“On the third morning I thought I could drive it into the wicket to get it to spin but as the ball gets older, you have to give it more air. That’s something I’ll take forward, it’s not something you get used to in England. But that’s part of the journey of learning to be a spinner in Test cricket.”