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County cricket must offer greater variety of pitches to aid England – Leach

Resounding defeats in the first two Tests against the West Indies have raised renewed questions about England’s red ball team.

Jack Leach plies his trade for Somerset on generous turning decks at Taunton (Mike Egerton/PA)
Jack Leach plies his trade for Somerset on generous turning decks at Taunton (Mike Egerton/PA)

England spinner Jack Leach believes county cricket must offer a greater variety of pitches if it wants to breed players capable of succeeding all over the world.

Resounding defeats in the first two Tests against the West Indies have raised renewed questions about England’s red ball team, and specifically their ability to thrive in foreign conditions.

Those concerns were temporarily shelved earlier this winter following a 3-0 victory in Sri Lanka – with Leach’s left-arm spin to the fore – but they are firmly back on the agenda.

Leach plies his trade for Somerset on generous turning decks at Taunton and rates criticism about the amount of spin they take – Middlesex and Lancashire have made their objections clear in recent seasons – as indicative of a wider problem.

Head coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Joe Root were careful not to use the variable bounce at the Sir Vivian Richards’ Stadium as an excuse for last week’s 10-wicket defeat, but both made plain their dissatisfaction at the surface.

“We need to challenge people to be better at cricket rather than complain about pitches. I think the surface at Antigua, we’d have not come up against in county championship. That might not be possible,” said Leach, who has yet to feature in the series.

“For me, we need players to experience different surfaces. It’s important to change attitudes. That would strengthen our international teams in years to come.

“I think there probably isn’t (enough variety in England). We look at spinning pitches negatively but if it’s seaming around we’re not too bothered. That needs to be addressed, how they mark pitches.

“I don’t know if that comes from the top or the counties, but I think it’s a big thing.”

England’s batsmen have been pilloried for lacking patience in the Caribbean, their counter-attacking style coming off badly in comparison to the studied diligence of Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo.

Leach hints that could also be an ingrained quality, with the prevalence of seam-friendly, green pitches in the domestic game making crease occupation a rare skill.

“There’s very few times where you spend 150 overs in the field and it’s a batting paradise,” he noted.

“So as much as I think spinning pitches are important, I think playing on flat ones is too. You can’t do things you haven’t practised before.”

If Leach’s thoughts appear particularly coherent and considered, it is probably due to the amount of time he has had to fashion them.

After being England’s most used bowler in Sri Lanka, taking 18 wickets at 21.38, he failed to make the squad in Barbados and was 12th man in Antigua.

“I’m four Tests into my career and it’s been two extremes I guess,” he said.

“I’ve found I have been down after the defeats, even though I’m not playing and that’s a real positive.

“With my role I have to be patient and know when I am going to be involved or not.

“In these two games I wouldn’t have expected to play. But I don’t feel I have wasted time, I feel like I have made improvements.”

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