Having come to Headingley without a Test five-for in England, Jack Leach will leave it with two, crediting the team’s new head coach, Brendon McCullum, and captain, Ben Stokes, with giving him the confidence that has transformed his approach and brought instant results.
“It probably hasn’t sunk in but it feels special,” Leach said. “I don’t know if I thought it was possible, probably not. My biggest thing is having belief in myself and that’s what Ben and Baz have really helped me with, and it looks like that’s starting to pay off. I know there’s going to be challenging games, but this is a good one for me.”
Leach started the series terribly, sustaining concussion while fielding inside the first hour and being ruled out of the remainder of the opening game. But since coming back for the second match at Trent Bridge he has bowled excellently, repaying the faith shown in him by Stokes, who has used him boldly throughout.
“My concussion was a tough week. I had built up to that moment and was really excited to be playing and being part of this new setup, and then not being able to play was hard. Then it was all focused on getting back for Trent Bridge which I managed to do, and then this happened. It’s up and down, which is kind of how my career has been.”
At the start of the fourth day New Zealand had Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell, the pairing that has proved so destructive throughout the series, at the crease and the game in the balance. But after the impressive Matt Potts broke that partnership Leach ripped through the tail to keep England’s target to an achievable 296. They ended the day on 183 for two, 113 runs from completing a series clean sweep.
“Especially in this innings I felt like I was bowling more attacking,” Leach said. “In the past I might have felt I needed a bit of protection to bowl attackingly. That third innings when they’re in the lead it would have been easy to drop guys back but Stokesy’s going the opposite way which is brilliant, and it gives me a new mindset which is trying to take wickets, being a bit more precise and specific with what I want to do rather than just bowling it.”
Blundell top-scored for New Zealand with 88 to conclude an excellent series with the bat, even if his team’s results have been poor. “It’s disappointing, as a group we haven’t been quite there,” he said.
“Obviously on a personal note it’s been fantastic, it’s just unfortunate a couple of results haven’t gone our way. But this team’s been known to fight and we’ve got to come out and do that tomorrow. You get a couple of wickets out there and you just never know.”