Jack Leach impresses as nightwatchman to help England fight back at Lord’s
The hosts have a lead of 87 with five wickets left.
Nightwatchman Jack Leach fell eight runs short of an unlikely century as England clawed their way back into contention against Ireland on a finely poised second afternoon at the Specsavers Test.
England began with a first-innings deficit of 122 after their derisory 85 all out on the first morning, but Leach’s improbable assured knock of 92 led the fightback at Lord’s.
Jason Roy also made a promising 72 on debut, turning the tide in a stand of 145 with Leach, as the hosts took tea 87 ahead on 209 for five.
Leach had been sent in to negate a solitary over at the end of day one but he took on the role of leading man and for a while looked destined to secure a wholly unexpected place on the famous honours board.
No Englishman has ever made a hundred after being asked to fulfil what is usually a brief, defensive role but Leach made a compelling case to become the first as he struck 16 boundaries and soaked up 162 deliveries.
A quick scan of the left-hander’s first-class CV showed just how unlikely his performance was – coming to the crease with an average under 11, a top score of 66 and a grand total of eight runs in his previous four innings.
But he batted with resolve, sound technique and a healthy slice of luck that saw him dropped twice before finally fencing Tim Murtagh to second slip.
Leach made a considerably better fist of his assignment than Rory Burns, who scratched around for six and looked less settled and less sound than his temporary partner.
When Burns nicked Boyd Rankin to wicketkeeper Gary Wilson it was a flat end to a disappointing first home Test which yielded a dozen runs and plenty more reasons for concern.
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Roy was also nervy early on but still found a way to keep things moving, with his first four scoring shots all boundaries. Only one was thoroughly convincing, two more were slightly streaky and the other sailed off the edge through the vacant third slip region.
There was one major statement of intent as he found his feet, lashing Andy McBrine for six on the charge, and he reached his fifty in just 47 balls with an authoritative cut off Stuart Thompson.
That shot levelled the scores at lunch, by which point Leach had chiselled out a steadfast 60 not out, built around solid judgement and a series of clean drives.
Leaving well and playing straight with the full face of the bat, at one stage he hit four boundaries in seven balls in a performance that put the top order’s first-day efforts to shame.
— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) July 25, 2019
Finally we have found a replacement for Alastair Cook .... #Leach
England moved ahead for the first time in the match in the opening over of the afternoon session, Roy whipping Rankin to midwicket, but Leach was about to start dominating proceedings.
He was badly dropped on 72, Rankin drawing the error and Wilson inexplicably allowing the ball to spill out of both gloves. Emboldened, he went on the attack.
There was an uppish cut over backward point, a lob that evaded mid-off and a punched drive that skimmed to the ropes. One misfield at cover later and he had eclipsed the entire team’s miserable day one total.
Roy attempted to reassert himself on proceedings with a booming drive at Thompson but paid with his stumps to end a promising outing in grisly fashion.
The stars looked to be aligning when Leach fenced Murtagh to second slip and was grassed by Mark Adair, but when the veteran seamer created a replica chance three balls later the catch was taken.
Ireland grasped the chance to make the game see-saw again, nipping out two more before tea.
Joe Denly was run out for 10 after a bad mix-up with Joe Root, while Jonny Bairstow bagged his second duck of the match, a tight lbw after a working over from Adair.