NASSER HUSSAIN: Leach deserves a chance before England turn to Moeen

NASSER HUSSAIN: Under-fire spinner Jack Leach should get a good go before England turn to an alternative like Moeen Ali – he’s had it tough and has been through the mill with illness and misfortune

  • Somerset spinner Jack Leach has struggled for England’s Test side recently
  • I think the ‘unretired’ spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali could be worth considering 
  • But not yet – the left-armer deserves at least the next two Tests to prove himself
  • Only after a proper run would it be fair to start looking at alternatives like Moeen

Any English spinner playing at home has my sympathy. The first two Test pitches this season have not offered them much and that is typical of how it is these days.

For long periods of a Test in England, the spinner fills a holding role and it can almost be like England are taking on the opposition with 10 players. The spinner might only come into home Tests later.

Headingley, where the series against New Zealand finishes, is no exception. It can be flat and the spinner has the containing role before it starts to do a bit by day four.

England spinner Jack Leach (above left) has had a difficult time of it recently in Test matches

England have sometimes left their spinner out in Leeds, even Graeme Swann in 2012 when Kevin Pietersen was given the role and actually took wickets against South Africa. 

Jack Leach does look certain to play on Thursday but, having said he has my sympathy, the one thing he does have to develop is that over-spin and drop on the ball, coupled with variations in pace to deceive the batter before it lands.

He was brought up on turning pitches in Taunton — and I have no problem with turning pitches — but he only had to jab the ball in at a certain pace and the pitch would do all the work. 

But get on a flat surface and you have to deceive, as Swann learned to do when he moved from the turning pitches of Northamptonshire to Trent Bridge.

Look at Nathan Lyon. He bowls on flat pitches in Australia with a Kookaburra ball but he gets a lot of over-spin and drop so that when batters try to get forward the length can be a bit shorter than they think and they can get into trouble.

The recently ‘unretired’ Moeen Ali (pictured) has been suggested as a replacement for Leach

Graeme Swann says Leach is rhythmical but does not drive his back thigh through his action

We were fortunate to have Swann in the Sky commentary box at Trent Bridge and I asked him about Leach. Swann says the left-armer is rhythmical but does not drive his back thigh through his action so his arm speed is not that quick. 

One of our greatest spinners reckons that if Leach improved this it would force him to rotate more at the crease which should lead to more drift and dip.

Swann also believes it can be a bit of a confidence thing with Leach. When he has been on those turning pitches of Somerset, he has been known to spin the ball harder and make it dip more.

The good news for Leach is that Ben Stokes seems determined to give him a good run and I believe he is right. The captain handled him well in Nottingham, bowling him as much as possible and putting faith in him by keeping the field up. 

There were times when Leach wanted mid-on back to Daryl Mitchell, but Stokes kept him up and also kept himself up to Tom Blundell and took the catch to dismiss him off Leach when he tried to go over the top. It meant Leach was never an after-thought, as he has been previously.

Spinning all-rounder Moeen has a good relationship with new Test captain Ben Stokes (right)

He also knows the new England Test coach Brendon McCullum (second left) from his IPL days

But the question persists — do England need a more multidimensional cricketer as their spinner, like the recently ‘unretired’ Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid or Liam Dawson, as even if there is no turn, Moeen in particular can offer you more with the bat.

I have always believed you should pick your best side for the match in front of you. 

So as long as Moeen is available and has been playing first-class cricket — I know it didn’t make much difference to Bairstow and Trent Boult to come straight from the IPL but Moeen hasn’t bowled with a red ball since last year’s Oval Test against India — then England have to consider him. 

Just perhaps not quite yet. This new regime should be perfect for Moeen. Stokes loves him and he has a good relationship with Brendon McCullum through the IPL.

They would back him and bring the best out of him. But England have to be fair. Leach and Matt Parkinson have been with the squad for the last couple of years through Covid and everything that went with it.

But I would give Leach at least two more Tests before making a decision on his future in the XI

Leach himself has also been through the mill with illness, misfortune and then suffering concussion in the first Test.

He’s had it tough and played in conditions that haven’t suited him so the principle of giving a player one game too many not one too few should apply here.

I would give Leach Headingley and the Test against India that immediately follows at Edgbaston before England even think about making a decision on him.

He would then have the next two Tests to show us what he’s got in English conditions and if, at any point, it does turn, Stokes can say, ‘I’ve backed you, it’s turning now, so I want you to take wickets.’

Only after a proper run for Leach would it be right for England to start looking at alternatives like Moeen.

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