Jack Leach is determined to keep thoughts about this winter’s Ashes tour in the background during the series against India, wary that his place on the trip will be moot if he does not perform in the coming weeks.
The England and Wales Cricket Board is looking to establish whether families will be granted visas to travel to Australia for the series that starts in December and, if so, how the current 14-day quarantine required for entry into the country can be factored into the team’s bubble environment to ensure the experience is not viewed as prohibitive.
Along with Ben Stokes taking an indefinite break to “prioritise his mental wellbeing”, the issue presents a potential distraction for England going into the five-Test series with India that starts at Trent Bridge on Wednesday. A number are believed to be considering their availability if the situation is not resolved, although Leach is seemingly not among them.
He said: “My way of doing things is taking one little part at a time and I’m very focused on this India series. If I don’t play well, [Australia] might not be where I’m going in the winter. It’s about taking care of what is in front of you.
“There’s been a little bit of chat [about families on tour] but through my experiences in the past, missing bits of cricket through illness or injury, I want to be doing everything I can to play for England, reach my potential and see what I can achieve at the highest level.
“It’s something I’d be very excited about, Australia in Australia. It’s the ultimate test and something you grow up looking at and thinking: ‘Wow, it’s amazing.’ [But] I’ll just think about what’s in front of me: Test matches against India.”
Leach’s caution is understandable, given that he returned from the tour of Sri Lanka and India last winter as England’s leading wicket-taker with 28 victims from six Tests, only to be overlooked for the 1-0 defeat to New Zealand in June when Joe Root and Chris Silverwood opted for two all-pace attacks. This essentially came down to the absence of three all-rounders in Stokes, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran. Leach accepted that the balance of the team and the desire for four seamers meant he missed out, even if it still left him frustrated by the call and feeling he could have had an impact on the pitches.
Neither Stokes nor Woakes are available for Trent Bridge, meaning Curran batting at No 7 appears Leach’s best route back into the side. Stokes would guarantee it, although his sidekick from the famous Headingley heist in 2019 is backing the decision he made on Friday to take a break.
Leach said: “All the lads are behind Ben and supporting him where we can. He has shown courage and bravery to prioritise his mental health. He is a focal part of our team and we will miss him. His priority is to take some time out from the game to get better. We can’t wait to welcome him back in the near future and winning games of cricket for England.”
Conditions in the Test series are unlikely to be as conducive for spin as those in Chennai and Ahmedabad during his last Test outing but Leach appears confident. Pitches in the early part of the season reduced his impact for Somerset but the 30-year-old insists English cricket is not solely about the quicks.
Asked about what he can take from the tour of India in February and March, Leach said: “The belief that I can bowl at these guys and do well. If the wicket is better it is just adapting your skill slightly. I enjoy bowling spin in England. The wickets generally are quite dry and there is definitely a role to play.
“Playing against India, who are such a strong side, in a five Test-match series, will tell us a lot about where we’re at. I guess I’m still trying to work my way into the team on a consistent basis. That’s my main thought: making sure my game is in a good place so I can be in the team and performing consistently.”