Jack Leach: England spinner on Jofra Archer, coronavirus and Headingley – BBC Sport

Jack Leach (right) was at the other end when Ben Stokes took England to an improbable Ashes victory at Headingley last summer

For Jack Leach, the noise coming from the hotel room next to his is a nice problem to have.

“I’m rooming next to Jofra Archer and when he arrived, he was straight on to gaming,” says Leach. “Wow, it was loud.

“He’s got his headphones on so you can’t hear anyone else, you can just hear him shouting at people telling them they are rubbish at whatever he’s playing.”

To even be part of England’s training camp in Southampton is a world away from Leach’s torrid winter, which began when the left-arm spinner contracted sepsis in New Zealand.

On the tour of South Africa that followed almost immediately afterwards, Leach had the symptoms of what he now thinks could have been coronavirus, and was eventually sent home.

Finally fit for the trip to Sri Lanka in March, albeit after a calf injury, Leach was denied once more by the global pandemic that will keep England off the field until the three-Test series against West Indies begins on 8 July.

“I went down with food poisoning in Hamilton,” explains the Somerset man. “That progressed quite dramatically through a 12-hour period and it turned into a sort of sepsis. I was in a very, very bad way.

“I travelled back from New Zealand and didn’t really realise how bad I was. Then it was only a week later that we went to South Africa.

“With all the travel, I picked up a cough, a temperature and just felt shattered. Having been through what I’d been through in New Zealand and all the medication I was on, I struggled to fight that off as well.

“It just wasn’t happening, so we decided the best thing was for me to come home.”

Managing his health is nothing new for the affable 29-year-old, who suffers from Crohn’s disease.

Leach says the lifelong condition is currently under control and has not caused any extra complications during the coronavirus restrictions of the past few months.

“There’s nothing I can really do about what happened in the winter,” he says. “It’s quite unfortunate how it happened. It’s the way it is, so I just have to take it on.”

Before illness struck, Leach was the man in possession of the spinner’s berth in the England Test side, only for his good friend and Somerset team-mate Dom Bess to impress when given the opportunity in South Africa.

Now both have been joined by the experienced Moeen Ali, who has ended his self-imposed hiatus from Test cricket, and uncapped pair Matt Parkinson and Amar Virdi in vying for a place in the side for the series opener against the Windies.

Leach’s record – 34 wickets in 10 Tests at an average of 29.02 – is more than respectable, yet he believes he has not been at his best with the ball on the international stage, not because of the numbers, but for the way he feels when he pulls on an England shirt.

What will an England Test match look like?

“It takes a bit of working out mentally how you want to go about things,” he says. “You come from county cricket, where you feel like you are massively involved after performing over and over.

“For England, I feel like I haven’t done that yet and I have a better understanding of why that is. A lot of it is mental.

“It is down to how I feel out there. I want to feel comfortable and I don’t want to be over-thinking.”

Still, irrespective of how Leach regards his own performances, his position in English cricketing folklore is guaranteed for the role he played on that barely believable Sunday afternoon at Headingley last summer.

As Ben Stokes’ doughty sidekick, Leach, armed with a massive heart and a small glasses-cleaning cloth, defied Australia, eventually scrambling one of the most famous singles in Test history to leave the stage clear for Stokes to complete the improbable run-chase in the third Ashes Test.

All this just a couple of weeks after making 92 opening the batting as nightwatchman against Ireland at Lord’s.

It means that, for the moment at least, the slow left-armer with a first-class batting average of 12.47 is best known for his Test efforts with the bat.

“I pride myself on my bowling,” he says. “That’s why I’m picked, to do that. I want to be bowling teams out on the last day, and that’s what I want to be remembered for.”

However, Leach will still take the opportunity to dine out on his batting exploits.

“Everyone talks about Headingley, and if I keep being remembered for batting, I can take that,” he says.

“When I’m older, I’m going to tell people in the pub that I opened the batting for England.”

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