Bob Wil­lis Tro­phy

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Us Open - By Scyld Berry Som­er­set (251 & 16-1) lead Worces­ter­shire (200) by 67 runs

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.

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