The pandemic has been tough for all cricketers, professional and recreational, but among the elite now based at the Rose Bowl it has surely been toughest for Jack Leach, though you would not necessarily think so when listening to him. He appears to hurdle the obstacles thrown at him at regular intervals in his career as if they were molehills. He is still eager for the fray and remarkably sanguine.
Before this winter there were horribly inconvenient injuries, concussion and mysterious concerns about his action. Then, in November, he was sidelined in New Zealand with what was finally diagnosed as sepsis.
By his own admission he rushed back for the tour of South Africa but was immediately badly afflicted by the bug rampaging through England’s ranks. So he was compelled to come home early, to be replaced by his Somerset colleague, rival and friend, Dom Bess. Despite a tear in a calf, Leach was back and ready for action in Sri Lanka before the pandemic ensured the abandonment of that tour in March.
Even now, life is more complicated for him since he has long been afflicted with Crohn’s disease, which makes him more vulnerable to the virus. “I spoke to my consultant and doctors and they felt the medication I’m on puts me at a little bit of higher risk, but what I came through in the winter suggests I can fight things off quite well,” he says.
“I’m maybe not as high-risk as others on the medication. My Crohn’s is under control, which is great.
“I do wonder whether I had it [Covid-19] in South Africa; I guess we’ll never know. If you had the symptoms I had there, you’d be thinking: ‘This is definitely coronavirus.’ But I feel healthy now and quite safe here in a biosecure environment.”
Leach is adjusting to the new regime. “You go to breakfast as normal. But the difference is you are all at individual tables. It feels like when you were doing your exams at school and you were all in a row. So that’s a bit weird. You still talk to people but from a distance.”
What are his luxuries on this peculiar desert island? “I’ve brought a coffee machine, a few books, I’ll be on Netflix. I watched Liverpool win the league. The lads are keeping themselves busy; there’s a team area with different games, a golf simulator. The golf course here is keeping the guys busy as well.
“I’m rooming next to Jofra [Archer] and he was straight on to gaming. Wow, it was loud. I’m not a gamer but I wish I was during lockdown. He’s got his headphones on so he can’t hear anyone else; you can just hear him shouting at people telling them they are rubbish at whatever he’s playing.”
Leach is there to bowl. He is one of five spinners in the 30-man squad, who are competing for one or, just possibly, two places in the Test team. His two main rivals are good friends. He looks up to Moeen Ali; Bess looks up to him. They pool their thoughts happily and frequently. But who will they pick in the Test team?
“To be honest, I’m not thinking about that,” he says. This is a standard reply yet with Leach there is the distinct possibility he means it. “I’m thinking about trying to bring my best to the England setup. I feel like I haven’t done that yet.”
This is a harsh judgment. Forgetting the freakish batting heroics, he has 34 wickets at 29 apiece after 10 Tests, an impressive start. “I think a lot about the game and about my game,” he says.
“I probably overthink at times” – an observation that poses all sorts of dilemmas, since after much agonising he has come to the conclusion that he has been thinking too much. Where do you go from there?
Leach craves what all sportsmen crave: a free, uncluttered mind out in the middle. That is where he deserves to be this summer, rediscovering that elusive serenity.