For Jack Leach, the disappointment of losing his place in the England side was compounded by missing out on playing Test cricket with childhood friend Jos Buttler.
When a broken thumb ruled Leach out of the first Test against Pakistan in May, he was denied the chance to walk out at Lord’s with the recalled Buttler, who he has known since their time in the Somerset under-11 team.
“I was an usher at his wedding,” said Leach. “I’d love to tell you something from the day, but I don’t remember much of it.
“I was DJ in the church. I had to fade the tunes in and out. I was right at the front, taking it very seriously. I got a lot of praise for that job.”
He may finally get his wish to play for England with Buttler during the three-Test tour of Sri Lanka, starting on Tuesday.
It was Buttler who helped give left-arm spinner Leach his nickname ‘the Nut’ – bestowed upon him because of his shaven head and the saying amongst friends: “Keep your nut down.”
Leach added: “There was an under-13s game where we batted together – I was number 11 and we were about 80-9. We put 60 or 70 on. I think I scored five of them.
“There was another game at Glastonbury against Wales. We scored about 150 and I bowled the first 10 overs from one end. I bowled 10 overs, nine maidens, 1-3. We got down to the last few overs, they needed maybe 10 and were eight wickets down. Jos took off his keeping stuff, said he was going to bowl and got the last two wickets.
“The coach sat us down and said: ‘Some people want it in the big moments and that’s what Jos did.’ I was thinking: ‘I bowled 10 overs, nine maidens and that’s not even mentioned!’
“In that game, Jos said to me: ‘I want to be in the Somerset academy.’ I didn’t know what it was, so he had to tell me. I thought: ‘That’s what I want as well.'”
Had it not been for the broken thumb, Leach would have almost certainly arrived in Sri Lanka with more than one Test cap, earned in New Zealand earlier this year, to his name.
That injury was followed by a concussion, sustained when he was hit on the head by Morne Morkel. Leach’s misfortunes gave England opportunities to Dom Bess, then Adil Rashid.
Now, in a land of spin, the 27-year-old could form a three-pronged slow-bowling attack with Moeen Ali and Rashid.
Leach is used to spells of adversity – some well documented, others not.
One night in 2015, when Leach was trying to make his name at Somerset, he fainted in his bathroom, hit his head on the sink and suffered a fractured skull.
For a while, the joke was that Leach was happier facing fast bowling than taking a late-night trip to the toilet.
Now, he is happy to set the record straight: “I might have said that, but I will take that back after getting hit on the head by Morkel. I’d much rather go for a pee.”
A year later, Leach was in the frame for a call-up to England’s tour of India, only for his action to be found to be illegal. Difficult remodelling work followed.
“I don’t want to be seen as a cheat and these are the things that are associated with throwing,” he said. “With tough experiences come stronger character. I would say it is something that made me a better bowler.”
The other oft-repeated fact about Leach is his time working in a supermarket. The misconception is that he was scratching a living while out of the game, whereas in reality he was earning some spare cash during his time with the Somerset academy.
“It’s made out that I went from trolleys to Test matches, which is how Jos puts it,” Leach said.
“He always jokes that [Somerset’s former director of cricket] Brian Rose was doing his shopping in Sainsbury’s and he saw me bowl one down aisle 13 with oats as rough and sticks of celery as stumps.
“It was just a bit of work to get through and live. It also taught me hard work doing work that you don’t want to do. It helps you not take things for granted.”
If trolleys, a fractured skull and an illegal action are the stories that follow Leach around, what is lesser known is his struggle with Crohn’s disease, the bowel condition with which he was diagnosed at the age of 14.
“It’s something I’m always battling with a little bit, even if I am very lucky to not be affected as badly as some people can be,” he said. “Going out to places like Sri Lanka I need to be extra careful.
“If I was having a bad day with the ball, it would be nice to be able to blame it on the Crohn’s, but I’ve never done that. If there’s a day when I’m struggling, I know how to fight through.
“If I was in the middle of a big flare-up, I would feel at a physical disadvantage compared to other players, but I haven’t had one of those since I was about 16.”
Leach’s first “flare-up” as a professional cricketer came over the past summer, though he maintains it did not affect his bowling.
However, as stress is known to trigger the symptoms of Crohn’s, he concedes that the emotion of playing his first Test, followed by a spell out injured, may have played a part.
|What is Crohn’s disease?|
|Crohn’s is a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system or gut. It can affect any part of the gut, though the most common area affected is the end of the ileum (the last part of the small intestine), or the colon.|
“I had a good chat over Twitter with Lewis Moody (a Rugby World Cup winner with England). He suffers with colitis and manages it through diet rather than medication. I’ve got some ideas from him about what to avoid. The problem is that I’m a big foodie,” he said.
“Spicy foods, too many carbs late at night, caffeine and red meat are things I don’t want to have too much of.
“I hope that these little things, the flare-ups, are building my strength of character. If I’ve got a weakness in my body, I’m stronger in the mind.”
And what about dealing with Crohn’s in the merciless world of the dressing room?
“I don’t think it’s something that people are massively aware of, but I every now and then I have the odd conversation,” he said.
“There is a little bit of banter, but if anyone is complaining to the physio that they have stomach ache or any other symptom remotely linked to Crohn’s, I tell them they’ve got Crohn’s.”
It can be argued that Leach’s chance at nailing down a place in an England side is overdue. In 2016 and 2017, no bowler took more than his 116 wickets in the top tier of the County Championship.
A decent return for a man who, as a youngster, had to be talked out of bowling pace by his father.
“Me being on this tour is very special for him,” said Leach. “He’s been so supportive, as has my mum. They watch Somerset whether I’m playing or not. My mum is going to Sri Lanka, but my dad hates flying.
“The only way he’ll watch a Test is if I play in England. I don’t think I’ll get him on a plane – I don’t want to put him through that.
“Still, I’m very grateful he persuaded me to stick with spin bowling.”
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