Jack Leach hailed England captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum for bolstering his self-belief after taking the first 10-wicket haul of his Test career on Sunday.
Leach’s 25 Tests have been blighted by illness – the left-arm spinner suffers from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition – injury and inconsistent selection.
And it somehow seemed typical of Leach’s luck that when he was selected for his first Test on home soil in three years at the start of the New Zealand series, he suffered a concussion while fielding on the opening morning at Lord’s.
Matt Parkinson was drafted in as emergency cover for that match but, significantly, the faith of all-rounder Stokes and McCullum, himself a former New Zealand captain, in Leach never faltered.
They picked him again for the second Test in Nottingham where Leach played his part in a five-wicket win that gave England an unassailable 2-0 lead in a three-match series over Test world champions New Zealand.
And by supporting Leach with attacking field settings that make it clear his main job is to take wickets rather than just contain the opposition, they have given the 31-year-old the chance to shine.
The fruits of that new approach have been evident during the series finale in Leeds where Leach took 5-100 in the first innings of the third Test only to top that with 5-66 on Sunday for a match haul of 10-166.
Those wickets helped prepare the ground for a run chase, with Ollie Pope (81*) and Joe Root (55*) taking England to 183-2 at stumps on the fourth day.
England now need just 113 more runs on Monday’s final day of the series to reach a target of 296 and complete a whitewash of the Black Caps.
“I don’t know if I thought something like this was possible or not before, probably not,” Leach told reporters.
“I think the biggest thing is having belief in myself and that’s what Ben and Baz [McCullum] have really helped me with. It looks like that’s starting to pay off.
“I am really enjoying working with Stokesy. I say, ‘What about putting mid-on back?’ and he just says no.
“It’s really attacking and I am enjoying bowling like that as well. I’ve never experienced anything like the atmosphere in that dressing room, this positive way of doing things.”
Headingley has loomed large in Leach’s 25-Test career, with his most famous moment as an international cricketer coming with his staunch 1* in support of century maker Stokes during an astonishing one-wicket win over Australia at the same ground in an Ashes clash three years ago.
“Does this feel better than 2019?” Leach said. “At the moment, no. We just need to get the win and then it will be very special,” he added. “It probably hasn’t sunk in but it feels great.”
A 3-0 loss would be harsh on New Zealand and in particular their middle-order duo of all-rounder Daryl Mitchell and wicketkeeper Tom Blundell, who have shared four separate hundred stands this series.
“It’s been fantastic to bat with Daryl and have those partnerships, it’s just unfortunate a couple of results haven’t gone our way,” said Blundell, who made an unbeaten 88 on Sunday.
“This team has been known as a team of fighters … we’ve got to come out first thing tomorrow [Monday], put a couple of wickets on the score and you never know.”
© Agence France-Presse