Bob Willis Trophy
One year and a fortnight ago, Jack Leach was not the nation’s hero, but he was second to Ben Stokes. And such is cricket’s capacity for levelling, this decisive game in the final round of the Bob Willis Trophy included Leach’s first competitive bowl not only of this season, but this year.
Has the sport smiled on Leach, just as he smiled his bespectacled grin after contributing his mite, or single, to the match-winning stand of 76 with Stokes? In New Zealand, he almost died of sepsis. In South Africa, he was too sick to get out of bed. In Sri Lanka, he was sent home with the rest of the squad in March. And for six long Tests this summer he had to play reserve spinner to Dom Bess.
In those Tests, Bess took eight wickets at 55 with his off-breaks. In his four Ashes Tests last year, Leach took 12 at 25. But the roles have been finally reversed: Somerset have preferred their left-arm spinner, while Bess – bound for Yorkshire – has had to run on to the field after every over, to take away the bowler’s cap or bring on sanitiser.
Granted a game at last, in September, Leach was right on the money in his first over – and denied a wicket when the ball sped for four off an inside edge. He was denied again when Jake Libby, the leading run-scorer in the Bob Willis Trophy, ran down the pitch, hammered it straight back – and on a ground behind closed doors the sound is loud when the ball is middled – and Leach dropped a stinger.
Leach has fancied himself as a grabber, so he went to first slip in the absence of the injured James Hildreth. The first chance that came his way burst through his hands, the last ball before lunch. Cricket knows how to make a meal taste bitter.
After lunch, though, and an hour’s loss to drizzle, a pale sun shone on Somerset and even Leach. The visitors’ four seamers reduced Worcestershire from 123 for one to 200 all out. Craig Overton, the sharpest, had been troubled by the footholds at the New Road end before lunch but found his feet afterwards, Josh Davey was waspishly accurate, while Jack Brooks and Lewis Gregory enjoyed some uneven bounce. Leach, who had held up the end when Overton was fed up with the footholds, did not take a wicket but contributed a neat catch low to his left at first slip.
By taking a first-innings lead of 51 and extending it to 67 before bad light, Somerset are on course for the Lord’s five-day final, as they have been since this competition began. So, too, are Essex, propelled by off-spinner Simon Harmer. It would be a nice, if atypical, way to end this mini-season, dominated by seam and swing, if the final were decided by a duel between these spinners.