Popular left-armer spinner Jack Leach has won the first Incider Player of the Month award of the season, for April/May, which is supported by Somerset County Sports. This particular award was voted for by the team at SCS and by writers of the site.
Initially left out of the side at Chester-le-Street, Leach came into the Somerset XI for the second County Championship fixture of the season at the Oval, and kept things tight with a spell of 2-34 in thirteen overs. The 24-year-old removed the key middle-order pair of Steven Davies and Jason Roy, but his opportunity to bowl was limited by the weather as the game petered out into a draw.
In his second game of the season, Leach bowled a mammoth 31 overs in Lancashire’s first innings at Taunton, in which they managed a total of 493-9 declared. He removed both of the visitors’ opening pair – Karl Brown and Haseeb Hameed – but was picked off by Liam Livingstone (108*) and Kyle Jarvis (34) towards the end of the innings to end with figures of 2-112.
A mixture of the weather, Somerset’s batting and excellent working from our seamers meant that Leach was not required to bowl again against Lancashire, nor in the next Championship fixture at Edgbaston, but in the excellent performance against Yorkshire at Taunton, he ended with match figures of 2-97 from a massive 48 overs; despite only taking two wickets, ‘the nut’ was very successful in keeping things tight from one end whilst Lewis Gregory, Jamie Overton and Tim Groenewald bowled with venom from the other.
However, it was the two most recent Championship fixtures – against Middlesex at Lord’s and at home to Surrey – in which Leach really came to the fore.
On a helpful surface at Lord’s, the left-arm spinner took a five-wicket haul on his first ever appearance at the ground, finishing with 5-77 in his 30 overs. He removed the dangerous trio of Sam Robson (99), James Franklin (23) and Paul Stirling (85) as Middlesex looked to accelerate later on in their innings, and helped to keep the deficit down to 47 runs as Somerset eventually drew.
Then, in the final game that counted towards this award, Leach was the hero with both bat and ball against Surrey. With the visitors 196-4 heading towards the tea interval on day one, Leach’s wicket of Steven Davies sparked a Surrey collapse of four wickets (all of which fell to him) for just five runs, and only a ninth wicket stand of 54 between Matt Pillans and Ben Foakes helped them limp to 264 all out on the second morning.
Leach’s figures of 4-34 in 19 overs in the first innings were excellent and testament to the turning pitch produced by Simon Lee, but the Taunton-born spinner would never have expected to be bowling again on day two, let alone before the tea interval.
However, after Somerset’s pathetic 102 all out in the first innings, Leach was thrust into the action, and he had another four wickets by the end of the day: Rory Burns, Davies (for the third time this season), Foakes and Tom Curran were his victims. Again, bowling from the River End, Leach kept things very tight, as his 31 overs went for just 64 runs, including ten maidens.
With 301 required to win, Leach might have expected that he would be needed with the bat, but with 64 runs still to get when he walked out at number ten, the game looked gone. Until that point, Leach had made 26 runs in six first-class innings in 2016, but his stand of 33 with Jamie Overton brought Somerset into contention: his defensive shots were assured, with the occasional textbook drive thrown in for good measure.
Overton’s departure for 29 was expected the signal the end for Somerset, but 14.2 overs and 31 runs later, Leach and Tim Groenewald were celebrating wildly; after knocking the ball around nonchalantly for singles and the occasional boundary, the pair had snatched a win from the jaws of defeat.
Leach’s stats for the period in question are excellent: he bowled 182 overs, taking 19 wickets at 24.1 apiece, and at an economy rate of just over 2.5 runs per over.
Despite excellent performances with the bat by James Hildreth and Marcus Trescothick, and Tim Groenewald’s potency with the ball, Leach’s consistency and enthusiasm have won him this award with five votes to Hildreth’s two and Groenewald’s one.
Whilst talk of a potential England call-up for the winter tours to Bangladesh and India remains among Somerset fans only as things stand, it is not implausible that another couple of good months when the County Championship returns later in the summer could propel Leach to international recognition before too long.