Jack Leach leaves England’s tour of South Africa to complete his recovery from sepsis after spinner was hospitalised in New Zealand last year
- Leach will head home from England’s tour of South Africa after health issues
- Spinner suffered a bout of sepsis and was hospitalised during New Zealand tour
- He has been able to train but unable to play in first two Tests in South Africa
- Leach will return to the UK to fully recover with view to playing in Sri Lanka
Only in Test cricket could the scoring of a single run provide the special place in history Jack Leach earned last summer for his supporting role in the miracle of Headingley.
The image of Leach helping Ben Stokes pull off the near impossible in the Ashes at Leeds against Australia, studiously polishing his glasses as he went, will endure for as long as the great old five-day game survives an increasingly impatient world.
Which is why Tuesday’s news that Leach has had to concede defeat in what has seemed a constant battle against illness throughout this tour and will go home when the third Test starts tomorrow is so poignant.
England spinner Jack Leach has been sent home from their tour of South Africa as he continues his recovery from a bout of sepsis suffered in New Zealand last year
Leach has been involved in net sessions during the tour but hasn’t been fit enough to play
Leach, it seems, not only has a fight on his hands to prove his fitness for a tour of Sri Lanka in March where spin will be so important but also that he can remain healthy enough for a prolonged career at international level.
It emerged on Tuesday Leach was suffering from sepsis when he was in hospital during the final Test of England’s New Zealand tour in November and on top of that has suffered with both the flu and sickness bugs here that so decimated the squad over Christmas. And the underlying issue is that Leach faces a constant battle against Crohn’s Disease which makes him more susceptible to infection. He has fought so valiantly throughout his career to get as far as he has done.
It was a huge blow for England’s spirits here on Tuesday when Leach became the third player to be forced out of this series after Rory Burns and Jimmy Anderson because he is one of the most popular members of the squad.
Not only had Leach replaced Moeen Ali, at least until this winter, as England’s No 1 spinner but he had distinguished himself with the bat, coming within eight runs of a Test century as nightwatchman against Ireland at Lord’s before his Headingley heroics.
Leach pictured during the tour of New Zealand in November, when he was struck by sepsis
England hope that Leach will be back for the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka in March
First Test (Centurion)
South Africa won by 107 runs
Second Test (Cape Town)
England won by 189 runs
Third Test (Port Elizabeth)
Fourth Test (Johannesburg)
Series level at 1-1 with two matches to play
Now, after losing his place to an emergency call-up in his Somerset team-mate Dom Bess, Leach will recuperate back home in Taunton before England decide whether he can cope with the demands of that two-Test tour of Sri Lanka.
England coach Chris Silverwood said: ‘It has been an unfortunate time for Jack because he hasn’t been able to get a hundred per cent fit since the tour of New Zealand six weeks ago. This has hampered his preparation and he hasn’t been able to get in a position to make himself available for the last two Tests here.
‘He is a great lad to have around the squad and his infectious personality and popularity will be missed. But his focus has to be on getting himself better and receiving the optimum levels of treatment, which is best served in England without distractions.’
It was in Sri Lanka little more than a year ago that Leach first proved himself international quality, at least on turning pitches, when he helped bowl England to a hugely unexpected and rare 3-0 overseas victory. But it is sobering for England that there are now big question marks over each member of the three-pronged spin attack that did so much to earn that triumph ahead of a return trip to Sri Lanka that is heavily weighted in World Test Championship points.
Moeen was dropped after the first Test of the Ashes last summer and then announced he was taking a break from red-ball cricket, even turning down England’s pleas for him to come out of exile for this series against South Africa. Now, having lost his full central contract, Moeen has signed a deal to play in the Pakistan Super League at the same time as England tour Sri Lanka and is set to turn down attempts to change his mind.
Adil Rashid, meanwhile, is still struggling with the right shoulder injury that so hindered him in the World Cup and even though he is fit enough to play white-ball cricket there are doubts whether it will ever again stand up to the longer game. So if Leach cannot prove his resilience to illness now England will have to revamp their spin attack, with the domestic cupboard worryingly bare.
Bess has impressed here but, at 22 and with only three Tests behind him, would be an inexperienced leading spinner on a tour of the sub-continent while leg- spinner Matt Parkinson looked out of his depth here in two practice matches ahead of the first Test. And with Mason Crane on the comeback trail after injury and Amar Virdi having to re-model his action, the off-spin of captain Joe Root has assumed exaggerated importance.
‘I have no doubt Jack will return to full fitness in the medium-term and hopefully he will recover in time for Sri Lanka,’ added Silverwood yesterday.
England’s chances of a repeat victory in Sri Lanka, not to mention the long-term prospects of a hugely popular cricketer, may depend on it.
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