Spinner looking for “as many games as possible” having not played home Test since 2019
England were beaten 1-0 by New Zealand – their first Test series defeat at home since 2014 – after relying on a four-seamer attack supported by Joe Root’s part-time offspin. With England’s main seam-bowling allrounder options, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, either injured or not considered for selection after returning from the IPL, the question of how to balance the side at Lord’s and Edgbaston meant Leach sitting out on both occasions.
England’s stated aim under Chris Silverwood, who took over at head coach in 2019, has been to play more of their home cricket on true surfaces, in order to improve performances overseas. But Leach has had little opportunity to practice the holding role that would then enable a more attacking brief later in the game.
“I think I said to Spoons it was frustrating, because I want to be playing as many games as possible at that level,” Leach said. “I guess the thing I’ve struggled with over the past couple of years has been that momentum of playing games, and feeling like you’re learning from those experiences. You can do as much as you want in the nets, but you want to put that into a game situation. There are things you don’t get in the nets that you only get in games.
“That was the frustrating thing. I understood it from a team point of view, in terms of the balance of the team. If it had been three seamers and a spinner, that would have been the first time I’d have played in that balance of team. Even at Somerset we’re playing with four seamers, and even a batter who bowls seam, Tom Abell, or Tom Lammonby, who bowls left-arm seam. My experience hasn’t been in that balance of team, so having not done that before, it would have been a huge challenge which I’d have loved to do, but I understand why they want four seamers, especially in England.
“From the point of view of just playing games, I was frustrated not to play, and they were wickets I felt I could have had a positive impact on the game.”
But with the height of the summer now dominated by white-ball cricket – there were just two rounds of the Championship scheduled between June 6 and August 30 – he conceded it had been hard to get himself into rhythm ahead of the first Test, starting next week at Trent Bridge.
“That has been the hardest challenge for me mentally: feeling like I’m getting enough overs in games. I think even in the first block of Championship games in April/May, I was playing on some quite seam friendly wickets so actually the amount of overs I bowled, even though I was playing, was not that many. And I had to do some isolation which meant I missed a Championship game and the day after I was playing at Surrey.
Of Stokes’ decision to take time away from the game, Leach said: “All the lads are behind Ben and supporting him where we can. He has shown courage and bravery to prioritise his mental health. He is a focal part of our team and we will miss him.
“His priority is to take some time out from the game to get better. We can’t wait to welcome him back in the near future and winning games of cricket for England.”
“It’s kind of a game I didn’t have much connection with really, in terms of not being involved at all in previous years, and something I wasn’t sure I was capable of doing, and I was intrigued to see whether what I do in the longer format could work. So, yeah, it was nice to play and win both games, and I took a few wickets, which was good.
“The nice thing was I was coming in on wickets they thought might spin, so I haven’t had to experience the flat ones yet in T20 cricket. But, yeah, it’s given me confidence that I can play that format. And also I probably feel like I’ve got nothing to lose in that format, and it’s picking up skills and reading batters when they come after you, and using that to help you even in the Test match game.
“In that first game in India when Pant was coming after me, I experienced that and felt like if I’d played more one-day cricket, I might have a little bit more nous in those situations. I’ve had a focus this summer on being around those white-ball teams, and at least practising white ball in the nets and experiencing batters coming after me. Gaining a few more skills that way. I think it can help me in all formats.”
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick