Ben Stokes may have ascended to the pantheon of cricket’s modern greats with an innings that will go down in Ashes history but the man who enabled his majestic knock is happy to represent “village cricketers” everywhere.
While Stokes’ awe-inspiring 135 not out in the third Test at Headingley is still being pored over and placed in context, it would not have been possible without Jack Leach.
The number 11 batsman with a first-class batting average that matches his position in the order shared the crease with Stokes for an hour-long cameo that is destined to become the stuff of legend.
He faced down 17 high-pressure deliveries, knowing any misjudgement would send the Ashes urn back to Australia, and almost ran himself out just before tying the scores with his only run of the day.
At the other end, Stokes embarked on a breathtaking assault, launching sixes of every kind into the stands, masterfully manipulating the strike and generally moulding the entire occasion to his design.
When he thrashed the final, climactic boundary the last-wicket stand had put on a thoroughly inconceivable 76 in England’s record pursuit of 359.
Stokes, of course, was the man of the moment but Leach’s role did not go unrecognised by fans, for whom he has become a cult figure.
If his doughty batting was not enough, the endearing sight of him stopping at frequent intervals to polish his glasses – Leach eschews contact lenses at the crease – only increased his bond with the crowd.
“It’s nice to have that, it’s probably because I look like a village cricketer out there, in my glasses and with the bald head,” he said.
“Maybe people think ‘that could be me’ because all the others look pretty professional. I’m just enjoying playing for England.”
As for his meticulous lens-wiping routine, Leach explained it was a simple matter of clearing the condensation and giving himself the best chance of hanging around.
“I just had to make sure they were clean every time I was facing up,” he said.
“I would really regret it if they had been smudged and I’d got out, then the cameras zoom in on the glasses and they say ‘he didn’t clean his glasses’.
“I just had to stay calm and do the job at hand. I felt good out there, I was really focused on what I needed to do.”
England’s hopes had faded almost to nought when Leach walked to the crease after five wickets tumbled following lunch on day four, but Leach had reason to believe something special was still possible.
That is because he had seen Stokes do something similarly improbable just six weeks earlier with his man-of-the-match performance in the World Cup final.
On that occasion he was at home, willing Stokes on as a supporter, but this time he was in the middle as his partner.
“I was watching the World Cup final as a fan and that showed that anything is possible,” he said. “Ben Stokes was at the centre of that as well. Maybe Ben Stokes has to be at the centre of all things that are possible. He was just unbelievable.
“I can’t remember exactly what he said when I came out. I think he spoke about the plan, how we would go about it.
“Stokesy straight away was thinking about how he would knock off the runs, obviously believing that it’s definitely going to happen. It is all a bit of a blur to be honest.
“I didn’t want to get in Stokesy’s bubble when he was doing really well, hitting all those sixes. I just wanted to do my job.”
The Somerset spinner would not even have been in a position to help had Moeen Ali not endured a dreadful first Test at Edgbaston, losing his role as first-choice spinner and opening a vacancy in the side.
With Adil Rashid already injured that meant Leach was promoted from third to first in the pecking order for the past two Tests, a swift rise that caught even him cold.
“I probably thought I’d be watching the Ashes at home,” he admitted. “But I wanted to be ready to play and not presume anything. Now my opportunity has come about so I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Provided by Press Association Sports
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