DURING the second half of last season, Jack Leach could do no wrong.
Tasked with leading the attack on the turning Taunton wickets, the local lad stepped up to the plate and took 65 Championship scalps – second only to Warwickshire’s Jeetan Patel across Division One as a whole.
It was not just on home turf that the spinner was excelling, with a five-for at Lord’s in May followed by a six-wicket haul at Headingley which set up the dramatic final week.
Since then, however, the 25-year-old has not had it all his own way.
First came the decision to overlook the Somerset man in favour of 39-year-old Gareth Batty for England’s tour of India, then in October came the bombshell that there were concerns over his action.
This news was made public in December – much to the dismay of some supporters, who felt the ECB were covering themselves in the face of mounting criticism as England fell to a heavy series defeat – and Leach has spent the winter adjusting to his new approach.
The left-arm spinner spoke openly about the testing time he has faced, and outlined his willingness to bounce back strongly.
“It’s been a challenging period but I’m always trying to improve and the last month has been the best it has felt so that sets me up nicely to hit the ground running,” he said.
“I do now feel used to it. I put a hell of a lot of work in from as soon as I found out, so from the middle of October up until Christmas was a lot of drill and mirror work, getting used to that new feeling, learning it and then mentally adjusting.
“Now I’m at a stage again where I can think about getting batsmen out rather than what my arm is doing - I feel in a great place now.”
There will of course be increased scrutiny on Leach this season; opposition batsmen will know more about him, there will be intrigue over his remodelled action and he will have to deal with the pressure of being the go-to bowler on the spin-friendly pitches that are likely to be in place again on home soil.
The latter was a responsibility he thrived upon last year, however, and Leach insisted he is ready to take on that mantle again.
“I loved last season, it was an amazing experience and I learned a lot,” he said.
“Being the man expected to get the wickets was a pressure to get used to but I think I showed that I was up to it and it’s something I’m more than up for again this year.
“It would be the most amazing feeling if we won it and we’re all working extremely hard to make it happen.
“We played Middlesex in the MCC game and got beaten by them so we’ve had enough of that! We’ll give it a damn good go.”