If things had been different Jack Leach would have already had a full England tour of India under his belt.
But, after being the obvious choice as a replacement for the injured Zafar Ansari in late 2016, the results of a routine test on his bowling action at Loughborough emerged.
‘It was actually a test for all sorts of things that Lions bowlers undertook, biomechanics and avoiding stress fractures, and part of it was how many degrees your arm bent,’ said Leach after arriving here on the eve of the first Test as a replacement for the injured Mason Crane. ‘When I got my result back it was just complete shock.’
After a difficult journey, Jack Leach (left) is now with the England squad in New Zealand
If things had been different, Leach could already have international experience to speak of
The result turned Leach’s world upside down because what was thought to be a model slow left arm action was found to be illegal because his arm bent more than 15 degrees. He was labelled with the worst of all stigmas – that of a chucker.
‘I’d never been called for throwing or anything like that,’ said Leach. ‘There were never any mutterings. So I just had to sort it out. The biggest thing I didn’t like was it felt like cheating and that wasn’t something I was trying to do. I wasn’t trying to gain an advantage, I just didn’t understand my bowling well enough.’
The worst moment for the personable Somerset spinner came after England had instead turned to Liam Dawson as an alternative for India, creating uproar among Leach’s supporters in the game, and Sportsmail revealed exactly why.
‘The day it came out was horrible for me because I hadn’t had that kind of exposure before,’ said Leach, 26. ‘Up until then it had all been very positive because I was doing well in county cricket and no-one knew much about me.
‘But to experience something like that before I’d even been involved with international cricket was actually quite good for me. I’ve learnt a little bit about that side of things as well now. Again it’s trying to look at all these things as positives because they are really. You just don’t realise it at the time.’
At the time Leach, prolific on the turning pitches of Taunton in 2016, had a very big question mark over his domestic, let alone international, future. ‘I managed to sort it out quite quickly and what I went through made me understand my bowling a lot better, ‘ he said.
‘It’s made me a better bowler because it was only a good thing to discover there was a problem. Having a stronger and smoother action was what was going to help me, not a questionable one. It probably pushed me on. Even though it felt like a big thing it was actually quite a small thing when you broke it down.
‘I got re-tested in the January after and all my deliveries were legitimate but it wasn’t until the back end of last season that I started to feel mentally back to normal. It was more the mental rather than the physical aspect of it, getting used to feeling I could just bowl normally again.
'That I’d done the work and didn’t have to control it in my mind because the last thing you want in a game is to be thinking about your action. You want to be focusing on how you’re going to get the batsmen out so it was about doing that. I’ve had to be resilient.’
Leach took 51 first division wickets with his remodelled action last summer and was then the only Lions player to emerge with any credit from their 3-0 thrashing against West Indies this winter, taking 18 wickets in three 'Tests' to Crane’s one in two games. Now he is where he has always wanted to be.
‘It is a nice moment but it’s just a step in the direction I want to go,’ said Leach after joining up with the England team before the start of the first Test. 'I don’t want to stop and celebrate too much. I want to keep pushing and keep working hard to then make my debut and be a successful England player.
'That’s the aim so there’s a lot of hard work to do to get to that point and the goals keep changing. I’m quite an ambitious guy so there’s plenty of things I want to do in the game and I’ll be working hard to try to make those happen.’
And a man who looks something of a throwback when he plays in glasses – ‘Daniel Vettori wore glasses on the field so that’s good enough for me!’ he said – paid tribute to the influence of his cricketing hero and now county team-mate Marcus Trescothick after this belated first senior call-up.
Leach believes the work on his bowling action has made him become a better player
‘I actually sent Tres a letter when I was about 10 or 11 and he’d just got back from an England tour,’ added Leach. ‘I asked him for some tips and got a letter back.
'I reminded Tres of this only last year and he said ‘no I don’t remember it, my agent probably wrote back to you.’ Then I showed him it and he said ‘yes that is my handwriting’ so he’d decided on this one he wanted to reply. It’s quite a nice story because I went on to share a dressing room with him.’
And now, even though his arrival here came too late for him to be considered for the Auckland Test, Leach will be sharing a dressing room with the England team too.