Left-arm spinner Jack Leach has continued his wicket-laden tour of the West Indies with the England Lions to increase calls for his inclusion in England’s Test plans.
In what has been a disappointing tour for the Lions, having already lost the series with defeat in the first two unofficial Tests, Leach has been the standout star for the tourists.
The Somerset spinner picked up 3-58 as the Lions dismissed West Indies A for 236 in their first innings at North Sound.
Those scalps take his total to 19 wickets on the tour from just four innings. Leach has already picked up two five-wicket hauls, including 5-26 from 13 overs in the first match and 6-138 in the second unofficial Test in Kingston – the best ever four-day figures from an England Lions spinner.
They are figures that have only enhanced calls for Leach to receive full England honours, calls which have been building now for the past couple of seasons.
While England have persisted with Moeen Ali as their main spinner, despite his primary role as a batsman, when it came to choosing a second spinner for the Ashes tour this winter, many were bemused when Leach was overlooked in favour of Hampshire leg-spinner Mason Crane.
In 2016 Leach was the second-highest wicket-taker in Division One with 65 wickets at an average of 21.87. He was similarly effective in 2017, taking 51 wickets at an average of 25.78.
Compare that to Crane, whose 31 wickets at 45.45 in 2016 was followed by just seven Championship appearances in 2017, which yielded only 16 wickets.
While 21-year-old Crane’s talent is obvious, it is hard to see why he got the nod over Leach based on their county performances.
Admittedly Leach plays his cricket on an extremely spin-friendly Taunton track, something which almost certainly counts against him in the selectors eyes. He also had to tweak his action after the 2016 season, after tests found a kink in his action.
His Lions tour of Sri Lanka last year was underwhelming but this tour of the West Indies will surely have the England hierarchy thinking again about 26-year-old Leach.
With Adil Rashid having made the controversial decision to turn his back on championship cricket and sign a white-ball-only contract with Yorkshire, it would seem to be a straight fight between Leach and Crane to be England’s main challenger to Moeen Ali.
Crane managed just one wicket in the first two matches against West Indies A on this tour and has not been selected for the third unofficial Test.
Yet is the Hampshire leg-spinner who was included in the Test squad for New Zealand that was named back at the start of January.
Leach has done virtually all he can with the Lions to ask the question of the selectors once again and it remains to be seen whether he could yet be added to that touring party, or could press his claims for the summer series at home to Pakistan and India.
Having dismissed West Indies A for 236 at North Sound, England Lions made it to the close on 20-0, with Lancashire pairing Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed at the crease.
Another Lancashire player made an impact alongside Leach in the West Indies A innings, with 21-year-old seamer Saqib Mahmood taking 3-50.
The Lions will be keen to end a disappointing series with victory in the third and final unofficial Test before the one-day matches begin next week.