Jack Leach is convinced the kink in his bowling action that prevented a call-up to England’s Test side before Christmas has now been fully ironed out but admits to some concern about the stigma that surrounds chucking in cricket.
The 25-year-old was the leading English spinner in the country last summer as his 65 wickets helped to finish as runners-up in the County Championship, but he missed out on the subcontinental winter touring parties with Zafar Ansari – an all-rounder rather than a specialist – preferred as the left-arm option.
When an opportunity arose midway through the Test series in India through an injury to the Surrey man, Leach was, to much confusion, who bowls: Hampshire’s Liam Dawson. It later transpired, however, that Leach was a non‑starter because of concerns that was picked up during internal screening by the England and Wales Cricket Board in September and while the required remedial work was under way by this stage, he was not Test-ready.
“It was a shock when I heard the news,” said Leach, who passed an internal test on his remodelled action in the second week of January and now heads on tour to Sri Lanka with the Lions on Monday. “It has never been an issue in games. I have never been called by an umpire so it was a totally new thing for me.”
An illegal action, as per the ICC regulations, is one in which “the player’s elbow extends by an amount of more than 15 degrees between their arm reaching the horizontal and the ball being released”. Leach claims his was a straightening that occurred just after his arm passed shoulder height but well before the point of release. While he declined to divulge the exact degree of flex when speaking at the ECB’s National Performance Centre in Loughborough last week, he admitted: “I was considerably over before and I’m considerably under now.
“My arm went quite far behind me which at shoulder height meant that there was a bit of a bend and then when I release it I am dead straight. It was just a question of taking my arm on a smoother path. That was the issue rather than getting too much further into my action and giving it an extra flick or bowling doosras.”
The key now for Leach, who praised help from the ECB’s lead spin-bowling coach, Peter Such, and Jason Kerr at Somerset, is continuing to groove this new action to feel completely natural, as well as coping with future scrutiny.
He said: “It seems a big thing because it is illegal – the whole ‘chucking it’ tag that goes with it, I don’t like that – but I think the improvements I’ve made in a very short time show it was a small thing, or that I’ve worked extremely hard. I don’t want to be thought of as a cheat. That’s what I would worry about. The fact is I have made the changes. From the bowling I’ve done since it’s happened I’m still spinning the ball and hitting good areas so that’s obviously what I want to be doing.”
With Leach’s glitch picked up internally and not during a match, he was able to bowl for England Lions during their pre-Christmas tour of the United Arab Emirates in December and he will now resume with the second string in Sri Lanka in two “A” Tests and five one-dayers over the next five weeks.
Leach said: “I’m looking forward to going out and trying to win games for England Lions, getting back to bowling and enjoying the contest and playing in games rather than talking abut technical things. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I just want to keep enjoying the journey. That’s all I can do. I am better for going through the process. I know so much more about myself and my action.”