You make your own luck, or so they say, and Jack Leach’s took a lot of making. Since his debut in New Zealand in 2018 he has played 25 of England’s 55 Tests, thrust into the side and plucked out, injured and recovered. Once someone fractures his skull after fainting in his own kitchen, as Leach did in 2015, they probably learn to take the regular rough with the occasional smooth – and the kind of rough that Leach has been presented with has not often been the sort that spinners feast on.
Shortly after lunch on the second day at Headingley he left the pitch with the ball in his hand, after claiming his first Test five-fer in England, or indeed anywhere outside Sri Lanka. This was not an everyday achievement – he was the first spin bowler to take five in the first innings of a Test at Headingley since Jim Laker in 1958 – and it was the reward of uncommon effort.
Only twice now in 55 years, and only seven times ever, has a spinner bowled more than 38 overs in the first innings of a Headingley Test; only one of the others took as many as five wickets, and none of them matched Leach’s achievement in being individually responsible for 33% of all balls bowled in the innings. So it could be argued that Leach took the route to success favoured by the father of Veruca Salt here: if you buy enough chocolate bars, you’re bound to get a few golden tickets.
Having dismissed Will Young with his first ball of the match, a decent delivery that the batter misjudged, something shifted for Leach when Henry Nicholls drove the ball into Daryl Mitchell’s bat, and thence into the hands of Alex Lees, on Thursday afternoon. He added three more wickets on Friday, the result less of his excellence than of clumsy slogs and fine catches.
You could forgive Matt Potts for wondering what might have been had the luck been with him instead. On Thursday he had trapped Mitchell lbw only for the umpire to misjudge it and Ben Foakes to advise against a review, and on Friday, with just the 11th delivery of the day, he found the same batter’s edge only for Foakes to intercept it on its way to Joe Root and punch the ball to safety.
Not that there was no luck involved in his one wicket of the innings, as he trapped Tom Blundell lbw two balls after the DRS system temporarily packed up, leaving the Kiwi unable to review. It looked a decent call, and the wicket was greeted with the vigour of someone who had a few celebrations bottled up inside him, waiting for release. Though that exuberance is not exactly untypical of a player who not just in his demeanour but in his method is pleasingly optimistic.
When Stuart Broad stands at the end of his run-up he holds the ball in his left hand and carefully positions the index and middle fingers of his right hand around it, making sure the seam is in precisely the desired position.
Jamie Overton, England’s third seamer in this match, cradles it in his left hand and as he starts running lands his right upon it, tightening his grip like a raptor with a shrew, keeping it still as he picks up speed.
Potts just gets on with it. Occasionally he will do most of his run-up with the ball in his left hand, before grabbing it with his right just before he enters his delivery stride.
Mostly he just takes the ball and starts running, without a pause or even a glance. Sometimes his method appears less the appliance of science than going random with abandon.
Whatever he is doing, it works: England’s three seamers shared 20 overs on Friday, as Leach did most of the work from the Football Stand End. Broad’s seven cost 17 runs and brought one wicket; Overton’s seven, many of them spent rather witlessly bowling short at Tim Southee and Mitchell, leaked 44 runs without reward; Potts bowled six, four of them maidens, at a cost of only six runs. He might not quite have reached the heights of Trent Boult’s new-ball assault on England’s top order but he shares with that bowler the admirable ability to be both threatening with the ball and also, in himself, engrossing.