Somerset 324 (Trescothick 95, Abell 70, Siddle 5-80) and 202 (Harmer 4-69) beat Essex 191 (ten Doeschate 73, J Overton 3-40) and 290 (Browne 88, Westley 56, ten Doeschate 50, Leach 8-85) by 45 runs
Jack Leach looked every bit an England player as he bowled unchanged from the River End for the entirety of the final day at Taunton for career-best figures of 8 for 85. He beat the bat time after time; his voice must have waned after going up for appeal after appeal. He was Somerset’s match-winner, and he had a bullish air about him.
It seemed a far cry from the analysis Chris Rogers, Somerset’s then captain, who suggested in 2016 that “emotionally he still has a bit of a way to go” when asked about Leach’s England prospects. “He is still a young guy, he has only ever been in Somerset and the challenges in international cricket are a lot more difficult,” Rogers said. “If they pick him then good luck to him but they’d better look after him.”
Then, resembling a follicly challenged IT technician, Leach would celebrate his wickets as though he had surprised even himself by getting a Championship batsman out. He was a superb county spinner, no doubt, but it was hard to imagine him being anything more.
“Looking back,” Leach has said of Rogers’ comments, “he was spot on”.
Two of his wickets in Somerset’s hard-fought victory over Essex stuck out as crucial. On the stroke of lunch, after accounting for the dogged Nick Browne earlier in the morning, his arm ball shot through Dan Lawrence’s defences to knock back off stump. Leach celebrated with a roar, but with only 111 needed and six wickets in hand, Essex were still in pole position.
Then, after the interval, he beat Ryan ten Doeschate once, twice, and a third time for good measure, but could not end his resistance. The Essex captain raised his bat for a second fifty of the game, and he looked primed for a match-winning contribution. Instead, Leach straightened one past his outside edge and into the stumps, and Somerset were halfway there.
Ravi Bopara was the next to go, bowled chopping a wide one on to his off stump, before Adam Wheater, Peter Siddle, and Jamie Porter followed. Leach had eight, and the best figures in Division One this season.
Things do not tend to come easily for Leach. After his remarkable form in the 2016 run-in, his action came under scrutiny at Loughborough, and he spent the winter undergoing remedial work. After impressing on Test debut in New Zealand, he missed out this summer by breaking his thumb the day before Ed Smith’s first squad was announced. After being told he needed bowl more overs to press his case for the India series, he suffered a concussion against Surrey, ruling him out of Somerset’s next game.
He has admitted he found his non-selection for the ongoing India series tough, though his involvement on the winter tour of Sri Lanka looks increasingly likely.
“He’s a world-class bowler in my opinion,” said Tom Abell, the man now captaining Leach at Somerset, “it’s so exciting what the future holds for him. We all know how good he is, and hopefully he’s now seeing how good he can be as well.”
While it may be assumed from afar that the pitch turned square for Leach, as this Taunton track has tended to over the past few seasons, that was not the case. It was firm and dry, but flattened out as the game wore on.
That much was evidenced by Dom Bess, who had a tougher time of it. He bowled flatter, without Leach’s unerring accuracy, and to defensive fields.
His day was best summed up by a moment in the field during Josh Davey’s first over with the new ball. Bopara – who came out to bat despite being ill with shingles – had scratched around for 16 deliveries. Still itching to get off the mark, Bopara took a couple of strides down the wicket as the ball rolled to Bess at point. Bess aimed at the stumps, but his wild throw missed by some way, and a misfield backing up meant it ran away for four.
Bess lay prone on the ground, surely feeling that this would be neither his nor Somerset’s day. Instead, it was unequivocally Leach’s.