Ben Stokes may have ascended to the pantheon of cricket’s modern greats with an innings that will go down in Ashes history but the man who enabled his majestic knock is happy to represent “village cricketers” everywhere.
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While Stokes’s awe-inspiring 135 not out in the third Test at Headingley is still being pored over and placed in context, it would not have been possible without Jack Leach. The No 11 batsman with a first-class batting average that matches his position in the order shared the crease with Stokes for an hour-long cameo that is destined to become the stuff of legend.
He faced down 17 high-pressure deliveries, knowing any misjudgement would send the Ashes urn back to Australia, and almost ran himself out just before tying the scores with his only run of the day.
At the other end, Stokes embarked on a breathtaking assault, launching sixes of every kind into the stands, manipulating the strike and generally moulding the entire occasion to his design.
When he thrashed the final, climactic boundary the last-wicket stand had put on a thoroughly inconceivable 76 in England’s record pursuit of 359.
Stokes, of course, was the man of the moment but Leach’s role did not go unrecognised by fans, for whom he has become a cult figure.
If his doughty batting was not enough, the endearing sight of him stopping at frequent intervals to polish his glasses – Leach eschews contact lenses at the crease – only increased his bond with the crowd.
“It’s nice to have that, it’s probably because I look like a village cricketer out there, in my glasses and with the bald head,” he said.
“Maybe people think ‘that could be me’ because all the others look pretty professional. I’m just enjoying playing for England.”
As for his meticulous lens-wiping routine, Leach explained it was a simple matter of clearing the condensation and giving himself the best chance of hanging around.
“I just had to make sure they were clean every time I was facing up,” he said. “I would really regret it if they had been smudged and I’d got out, then the cameras zoom in on the glasses and they say ‘he didn’t clean his glasses’.
“I just had to stay calm and do the job at hand. I felt good out there, I was really focused on what I needed to do.”
The Somerset spinner would not even have been playing, but for Moeen Ali’s loss of form and an injury to Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid.
“I probably thought I’d be watching the Ashes at home,” he admitted.