Jack Leach: ‘You’re trying to win quickly but that won’t always be the case’

They will resume at Basin Reserve at 48 to 1 – Zak Crawley the only one to fall – eyeing an 11th victory in 12 Tests under the lead duo of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum. And it will have come as a blow after the Blackcaps hit 483 in their next innings after England, who were put in for bat, established a 226-run lead, declaring 435 for 8.

Stokes’ decision to ask New Zealand to bat again was beginning to weigh on England’s attack, which had been winding down since just before lunch on the second day. In all they spent 215.5 overs playing Wellington, with 162.3 in recent days largely due to Kane Williamson’s 132 which kept the hosts’ second innings together.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Leach made light of the idea that a fourth inning chase of this size was not part of the plan.

“Why not?” Leach responded, before being asked if the original focus was on finishing the game in three days rather than keeping all results on the table until the last day. “Well, yes, obviously – you’re always trying to win as quickly as possible. But that won’t always be the case.”

The left-arm spinner took 61.3 overs and was eventually rewarded with 5 for 157 – the fifth five-wicket haul of his career. That workload is the second most he has had to do during an innings, after 69.5 overs against the West Indies at Bridgetown in March 2022. Although today’s period was eight overs short, he rates it as the most difficult period.

“Thinking about Barbados, this (second entry in Wellington) looked a lot harder,” said Leach. “Here it taught me a lot about how to get what you want from a pitch, you have to work really hard. That’s something I’ll carry massively into the future. Sixty overs out there looked a lot harder than 69 in Barbados.

“(I was) satisfied with how I continued. Not satisfied with a lot of things either, but just happy that we have a chance to win the game tomorrow.

“We’re very confident going after him. We know how we want to do our chases. It’s a case of sticking to our process, trusting that it will work. It’s going to be an exciting day.”

“I feel like I’ve come a long way and Stokesy has spoken to me about wanting to challenge myself in many different situations. That will help me”

Leach reflects on his cricket this winter

He credited the team with maintaining this at all times, although there were times when it looked as if England were losing steam and were slowly being turned the wrong way in the game, most notably during a 271-ball partnership between Williamson and Tom Blundell that added 158 to the score.

“Stokesy said (at tea to) give it all you’ve got. He put it much better than that.

“Sometimes it’s just hard work. You have to keep going, give a little more and enjoy the work rather than worrying about things not going to happen; that was the message – enjoy being there, you’re playing for England and trying to win a Test match. What we saw is that the more we like it, the better we play. It worked.”

While he may be asked to bat depending on how close things get on Tuesday, Leach is done with his main suit until summer. He was the only bowler to play all 12 Tests under Stokes, taking 41 wickets at an average of 38.90. In three matches against Pakistan in December and two here in New Zealand, that’s 25 wickets at 40.60.

Reflecting on his winter, Leach admits to being conflicted, but believes there are positives and negatives to improve going forward.

“It’s been a mixed bag,” Leach said. “I feel like I’ve come a long way and Stokesy has spoken to me about wanting to challenge myself in a lot of different situations. That’s going to help me. Him putting me in those situations is really helpful.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot and things I’ll carry forward – how I prepare, thinking about county cricket and longer spells. (The) Wind here – I found this difficult at times. All these things are good to experience and it makes you realize how it can improve your practice because it needs to be stronger for longer.

“I was happy with the way I played yesterday but stopped tired today. From talking to Jeets (Jeetan Patel), someone who has very strong action and can keep bowling for long periods if the opportunities don’t exist in certain games, it’s it’s about me using that in my practice. A really nice learning curve for me.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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