MELBOURNE: England are beaming with the return of Ben Stokes for the Ashes but few players could be happier than spinner Jack Leach, who sees the pugnacious all-rounder as his own ticket back into the Test set-up.
Stokes’ absence through the home summer also saw Leach left out in the cold with selectors preferring seam-heavy attacks for “team balance” against New Zealand and for most of the truncated India series.
Along with Stokes, England have brought another seam-bowling all-rounder in their squad in Chris Woakes, boosting Leach’s hopes of playing a meaningful part in the five-Test series starting in Brisbane in a week.
“From the summer, the feedback was that Stokesy not being in the side, not having that all-round option in the top order, kind of made things difficult for me to get in the side,” Leach told reporters on Wednesday.
“So I think having him back is great. Also having [Chris] Woakes back ... both of them back is hopefully positive for being able to fit a spinner in, for sure.”
Left-armer Leach was England’s most successful bowler over the winter with 28 wickets against India and Sri Lanka, but the 30-year-old Somerset man has not played a test since Ahmedabad in March, which was also Stokes’ last appearance.
The pair shared in one of the highlights of the drawn 2019 Ashes series, when Stokes smashed an unbeaten 135 at Headingley and number 11 Leach survived 17 balls to finish one not out and help England snatch a thrilling one-wicket win.
Leach said he could never get tired of hearing about his unbeaten one but hopes to add new Ashes highlights.
“Im not fed up with the one not out. I dont think I ever will be but I guess I want to keep performing for England, that’s what it comes down to,” he said.
Australia has never been a spinner’s paradise but Leach has admired Nathan Lyon’s ability to coax so many wickets from its hard pitches and admitted trying to add a few of the veteran’s tricks to his repertoire.
Leach also spotlighted Ravindra Jadeja as an inspiration after the Indian’s exploits during a Test series in Australia last summer.
“For years I’ve watched Nathan Lyon and he’s very impressive,” said Leach. “Just how strong his stock ball is and on wickets that don’t necessarily offer a lot spin wise he’s found ways to extract extra bounce, dip and all the other things.
“They’re the kind of things that I’ve been trying to add in but still sticking to my strengths as well.”
Watching fellow left-arm spinner Jadeja has also been part of his preparation during England’s rain-hit build-up to the five-Test series.
“I don’t think [Jadeja] did too much different to what he does in India,” said Leach, who has played 16 Tests, taking 62 wickets, but none in Australia. “That’s another nice thing to see. He’s taken what he does, is doing pretty similar things and having success.”
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2021