NASSER HUSSAIN: You've got to be happy for Jack Leach

NASSER HUSSAIN: You’ve got to be happy for Jack Leach… he was under pressure to deliver and he has in spectacular fashion to steer England towards victory over New Zealand

  • Jack Leach took five wickets in the second innings at Headingley on Sunday 
  • He also took five wickets in the first innings, so has taken 10 in the match 
  • England now require 113 runs to win the match and to complete a clean sweep

You’ve got to be pleased for Jack Leach after everything the lad’s gone through – be it bubble life, Crohn’s disease, Covid or concussion.

English pitches have not generally helped him, and he hasn’t been bowling much. Then there’s all the talk about Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, with Matt Parkinson in the background.

Now, he gets a surface that has offered him something, and the pressure’s on him to deliver. And deliver he has, in spectacular fashion – only the second England spinner to take 10 wickets in a Test at Headingley since Derek Underwood, 50 years ago.

Jack Leach completed the first 10-wicket match of his England Test career on Sunday

For me, the key moment was the first hour of this Headingley Test, when Ben Stokes threw Leach the ball. You don’t see many spinners bowling that early in Test matches up here, but the confidence that must have instilled in him has proved crucial.

Not only that, but Stokes has set brilliant fields for his spinner. How many times do we see slow bowlers come on, to be greeted by sweepers on both sides, which allows the batsmen easy singles early in their innings?

Stokes was having none of that, and has been excellent about when to bring mid-off and mid-on up, and when to drop them back. Even the ricochet wicket, when Henry Nicholls was caught off the bat of Daryl Mitchell, only happened because Stokes had brought long-on up to mid-on.

He’s said to New Zealand’s batters: if you succeed in going over the top, good for you – but I’m not pushing the man back to give you an easy single. You’ll have to go over the top again.

I spoke to Graeme Swann last week, and he said that when he sees Leach perform on turning pitches for Somerset at Taunton, he sees a bowler who has confidence in his action. Well, Stokes has given him confidence simply by showing faith in him.

Jack Leach took five wickets in each innings as he stole the show for the home side 

But Swann also mentioned that Leach needed to make a couple of technical changes, including getting more action into his hip – and you can see that Leach has taken on board some of the suggestions.

He’s shortened his run-up to the extent that he’s almost starting by the umpire now, and that is giving him more momentum at the crease – he’s getting his hip through more, and standing a bit taller.

When you do that, you get more arm speed on the ball, which in turn gives you a bit more drift – as we saw with his first wicket in the game, trapping Will Young leg-before.

We’ve also seen Kane Williamson, a good player of spin, getting caught between lengths, unsure whether to come forward or stay back. If you’re deceiving world-class batters before the ball lands, that has to be a good sign.

We all knew that Leach could be a handful when the ball’s turning, because he’s got that accuracy. He can drill it in there and take wickets. It’s in unhelpful conditions, as was the case in the second Test at Trent Bridge, that he has struggled.

And make no mistake: being a spin bowler in England can be a tough gig. But Leach has been working hard with Jeetan Patel, the spin-bowling coach, and – I can’t stress this enough – he has the backing of his captain.

Shane Warne always used to say how much he enjoyed playing under captains who understood spin bowling, like Allan Border and Mark Taylor. Leach may now be saying the same about Stokes.

It’s also been noticeable how, during the course of this game, Leach has been more and more comfortable going round the wicket and getting turn off the main part of the pitch, not out of the footholds.

At Trent Bridge, people were saying that New Zealand’s off-spinner Michael Bracewell was getting more drop and drift than leach. But in this game, so far at least, Bracewell has not hit a consistent length like Leach has done.

With a Pakistan tour on the horizon, Stokes might also have decided to get more overs under Leach’s belt. If England end up winning this game, he’ll have achieved a double whammy: success in the present, preparation for the future. Suddenly, Leach looks like he has a part to play in both.

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