Jack Leach is as firm as they come

England’s Jack Leach (C) celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Pakistani Mohammad Nawaz (not pictured) during day two of the second cricket test match between Pakistan and England at Multan Cricket Stadium, Multan – Aamir Qureshi/Getty Images

If it wasn’t the best bowling session under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum it must have been the finest phase of bowling from the moment Ollie Robinson bowled Pakistan captain Babar Azam until the home side are been expelled for 202.

Jack Leach was England’s leading wicket-taker, with four wickets including his penny in the Tests, but as he will be the first to admit, he was also the main beneficiary of the pressure from England swingers which forced Pakistan to surrender. It was a remarkable performance after their modest first innings of 281 – never before have England fielding in Pakistan dictated a game pass to such an extent.

So it’s not just Pakistan that has a bespectacled spinner. If Leach couldn’t match the impact of Abrar Ahmed, aka “the wizard,” he made the best of him in his persistently determined way, as always. Whatever Leach does on a cricket pitch, he’s as stable as they are.

Leach deserved a breakthrough in this match in return for Rawalpindi’s road he had to work for 67.3 overs – not 67 or 68 overs, but 67.3. That third ball of his last over was obviously one of the most significant in the annals of England Test cricket history in Asia as the new ball slipped over Naseem Shah and snatched the deciding LBW match decision out of the system like the light and hopes were fading.

From Headingley indeed Leach had had a lean spell, up to Multan. In that third Test against New Zealand he had taken ten wickets in a Test for the first time, to reciprocate the faith Stokes had expressed in him: that he would always bowl and never be dropped, as Leach had been during the summers England of 2020 and 2021, when Dom Bess was usually England’s spinner.

England's Jack Leach (R) celebrates with captain Ben Stokes after taking the wicket of Pakistani Mohammad Nawaz (not pictured) during day two of the second cricket test match between Pakistan and England - Getty Images/Aamir Qureshi

England’s Jack Leach (R) celebrates with captain Ben Stokes after taking the wicket of Pakistani Mohammad Nawaz (not pictured) during day two of the second cricket test match between Pakistan and England – Getty Images/Aamir Qureshi

A strong crosswind off the Western Terrace had helped Leach carry the ball into New Zealand right-handers and pick up those ten wickets. After that: just three more wickets in the other four home Tests last summer against India and South Africa. Three in four matches, then three wickets for the whopping price of 246 runs at Rawalpindi. Time to repay faith no matter that 100th wicket.

After knocking out Pakistan opener Abdullah Shafique on day one, Leach picked up three more on the second morning, once England’s reverse swing experts had forced the breach. A pair of wickets that Leach and Joe Root picked up looked like soft dismissals, but it would be truer to say they were soft dismissals: Robinson’s reversal and Mark Wood’s pace had made the Pakistani batsmen think they had nothing on their side to correspond to these qualities.

Take Saud Shakel. Wood fired a full run off the wicket which pinned Shakeel in his crease, unable to do anything but push forward in self-defence. No wonder Pakistan’s southpaw relaxed as Leach came in and sailed down the field to strike straight for four; dazed now, he chipped the next ball deep inside.

This was a highly commendable catch, because when he came back from midfield James Anderson had to not only keep his eyes on the ball, but also not be distracted by Will Jacks bearing down on him.

England's James Anderson makes a decision to dismiss Pakistani Saud Shakeel (not pictured) during day two of the second test cricket match between Pakistan and England - England ignites the style as Jack Leach claims his 100th Test wicket against Pakistan - Aamir Qureshi / Getty Images

England’s James Anderson makes a decision to dismiss Pakistani Saud Shakeel (not pictured) during day two of the second test cricket match between Pakistan and England – England ignites the style as Jack Leach claims his 100th Test wicket against Pakistan – Aamir Qureshi / Getty Images

Shakeel was Leach’s 100th Test wicket and if this owed much to the fielder, the next wicket was all the work of Leach, one of his best deliveries. Mohammad Rizwan did not feel able to push forward, perhaps due to the tight field, perhaps because DRS can now trap the batsman playing with his front pad: in any case it was a ripper who bowled on one leg and it hit the top of the middle-and- stump.

Rizwan had also been blocked by the England bowlers, pinned at zero for 27 balls. Salman Agha was also softened up, after which, faced with offbreaks from Root at the opposite end of the pace, he chipped a trolley, as did Mohammad Nawaz to give Leach his fourth and final wicket.

Leach has a notable edge over his Pakistani counterparts. He doesn’t get swept or knocked over with every ball, with all the chaos that entails and the difficulty of setting up a pitch. Faheem Ashraf tried a few before Pakistan’s first innings shut down and that was enough.

England fans have sometimes been frustrated by Leach, such as in the West Indies earlier this year, when he was unwilling or unable to offer the classic left-arm spin: he didn’t fly the ball in and out of the stump on flat pitches and was trying the rights on the journey, continued to drive it through.

But exactly the same has been said of many of England’s left arm spinners over the centuries, from Monty Panesar and Ashley Giles through to Hedley Verity. That’s not how they are built or how they work. They pass it.

With his 102 wickets at 33.75 runs each and a strike rate of one wicket for every 68.8 balls, Leach can look most of his ancestors in the eye through his glasses. Panesar took his 167 Test wickets at 34, Giles 143 for 40, Phil Tufnell 121 for 37, Phil Edmonds 125 for 34. No wizard, but as steady as they come, he’s our Jack.

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