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England v New Zealand: Jack Leach's luck turns at Headingley

If sometimes you are due some luck then Jack Leach must have spent the past couple of years wondering when his would arrive.

Various reasons – serious illness, concussion, questionable selections and performance – have meant the England spinner’s Test career reads like the lyrics to the Hokey Cokey.

Finally, with the most freakish dismissal seen in recent times on day one of the third Test against New Zealand, it appeared Leach’s fortune may be changing.

“I didn’t know if it was allowed,” the 31-year-old said. “I have never seen anything like it.”

New Zealand’s Henry Nicholls, having ground his way to 19 from 99 balls, drove down the ground only for the ball to hit team-mate Daryl Mitchell’s bat at the non-striker’s end and loop to Alex Lees at mid-off for a simple catch.

It was a moment that had the Headingley crowd laughing when replays were shown on the big screen.

The disbelief among the England players was clear too, with captain Ben Stokes one of those wide-eyed.

Leach was almost lost for words. “It’s a stupid game,” he said after play.

New Zealand’s batting coach Luke Ronchi joked that Mitchell, who ended the day 78 not out as the tourists recovered to reach 225-5, “managed to middle it again”, as he did in making centuries in the first two Tests.

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Looking back, many would say Leach has been England’s number one spinner for the past three years, but he has played only 16 of their past 35 Tests.

He missed games in 2019 with a bout of sepsis that left him fearing for his lifeexternal-link, as well as Tests against South Africa later that winter because of gastroenteritis and flu.

His misfortune continued this month when he was forced to pull out during the first New Zealand Test at Lord’s with concussion. He banged his head trying to emulate a diving stop performed by new coach Brendon McCullum that he had seen on YouTube.

When Leach returned at Trent Bridge last week his three wickets cost 226 runs as the New Zealand batters attacked him from the outset.

But back at Headingley for the first time since playing his part along side Ben Stokes in the famous 2019 Ashes win, Leach produced arguably his best performance in a home Test.

A day after his 31st birthday, he bowled 30 overs, offering control and threat in taking 2-75.

“I felt in good rhythm today and stuck to my task pretty well,” he said. “It is great to be back at Headingley.”

Leach’s workload was the most he has got through on day one of a Test.

Despite the difficult match in Nottingham, and similar treatment during last winter’s Ashes defeat in Australia, the left-armer was introduced after just 12 overs.

He responded by dismissing Will Young lbw for 20 with his first ball.

Leach could be the latest, after second-Test centurion Ollie Pope, wicketkeeper Ben Foakes and improving opener Alex Lees to benefit from the backing of the new Stokes-McCullum ultra-positive regime.

It remains to be seen whether this performance will quieten talk about Leach’s place in the side.

Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson would be in the team of many England fans, while there have been whispers of both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid making a Test return.

Some might see that constant talk about others as unfair. Not Leach.

“I have got too much to think about,” he said. “I am just trying to give it as a good as go as I can. If people want to play then great.

“Obviously they are going to pick the best team they can and it is my job to try and take care of me and put myself in the best position to be in that team.”

Just a tiny portion of the luck he received on the stroke of tea on Thursday may help him do just that.

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