Jack Leach is “even more hungry” to extend his England Lions experience in Sri Lanka early next year after signing off with two crucial wickets in a 48-run win against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi at the weekend.
The Somerset spinner, who had impressed in his only appearance in the one-day series against the United Arab Emirates earlier in the Lions training camp, had to be patient in a hard-fought four-day encounter with the Afghans, as he went wicketless in 20 overs in the first innings, and then watched Surrey’s Curran brothers share the first six wickets second time around.
However, it took him less than two overs to strike when he was introduced for the 24th over and he claimed the key scalp of Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan’s most experienced player, with a classic slow left armer’s dismissal – luring him forward and turning the ball past his outside edge for Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes to complete a smart stumping.
Rashid Khan reached his half century and started to make the Lions twitchy in a ninth-wicket stand of 39, but captain Toby Roland-Jones recalled Jack to the attack and again he struck, in a virtually identical fashion, as Rashid was also beaten and stumped.
“It was a good test for me,” reflected Jack, who will be back in today. “It wasn’t a wicket that was spinning every ball, it was the odd one that would grip, so it was important for me to just be as accurate as I could, wait for them to make a mistake and just back what I do. I was reasonably happy with the way I bowled in the first innings. I maybe got a little bit greedy. My first eight overs went for eight runs and I was thinking I’d like a wicket. Maybe that was a learning curve for me. You’ve got to sit in and be patient but then obviously I got my rewards in the second innings.
“It’s been a great three weeks for me and all the boys. I think we’ve got a lot out of it, first with the 3-nil win in the one-dayers against the UAE, and now a four-day win against Afghanistan. It was tough cricket this game, Afghanistan played well and it was good to get a win against a tough side.
“I definitely feel I’ve taken some big steps forward. It’s all new isn’t it when you first come in, and get the kit on. It was big for me coming into a new environment, I didn’t know many people, so the first part was getting to know guys. They’re a great bunch of lads so that made it really easy for me. I’ve made some good friends, we’ve had a good time and played some good cricket.”
The major competitive section of the Lions’ winter programme comes in February and March, with two four-day matches and five one-day games against Sri Lanka A.
The squad will be announced this week and Leach added: “This tour has made me even more hungry to go to Sri Lanka. All the guys really want to be part of that, and go and get some more positive results.”
The same goes for Craig Overton, who was man of the match in the last one-day game against UAE, but missed out on selection for the Afghanistan fixture as the Lions chose only two specialist seamers. “For me it’s been great to have Craig here,” said Jack. “Obviously he’s been on a few of these tours before so he’s really helped me with that. He bowled brilliantly in those two one-dayers. He was unlucky to miss out here. Obviously we’ve got a good squad of players and the balance of the team we played probably didn’t help him.”
Earlier on the tour Jack was presented with his Lions cap by Graham Thorpe about which he said: “It was a very proud moment for me and to receive it from an England legend in Graham Thorpe. He had some wise words and it made me reflect on how far I’ve come and gave me a taste of what could still be to come.”
Looking back on the tour as a whole Jack said: “It’s been a good tour and it’s been good to get out and play in the heat. The first couple of weeks was all training with long days working on our skills in these conditions. It’s been good for me to get used to new conditions. I’m always working on a couple of technical things to keep getting the action as strong as possible but apart from that it’s about learning my game and adapting it to different situations. I have to stay patient and keep taking wickets and keep getting better and better. The Lions programme is giving me a great opportunity to do that so I have to grab it with both hands. I would like to thank everyone for their unbelievable support. It means so much to me and makes me so determined to repay that support as best I can!”
*Photos courtesy of Getty Images