England suffered a significant setback to their bowling stock in India after Jack Leach, their only experienced top player to take part in the tour, was ruled out for the remainder of the series due to a knee injury.
Leach, 32, missed the Ashes series last summer after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back and made his comeback in the first Test in Hyderabad last month when a fall in the outfield on the first evening injured his left knee.
Diagnosed with a hematoma – a swelling believed to have been aggravated by the medication he is taking to treat Crohn’s disease – Leach battled through the pain, batting 36 overs in short spells and scoring in the 28-run win two wickets.
After missing the second Test in Visakhapatnam – a 106-run loss to India in which the series ended 1-1 – Leach was considered unlikely to feature in the third Test starting this Thursday in Rajkot. However, the issue was not addressed during the team’s tour break in Abu Dhabi and he will now return to the UK.
While England were accompanied by a Lions team in the first part of the tour, there were no significant arguments for promotion. Instead, England have opted against a replacement, leaving Tom Hartley (24), Shoaib Bashir (20) and Rehan Ahmed (19) as three front-line options, as well as the part-time cast of Joe Root and Dan Lawrence.
It kills the idea of fielding an all-spin attack in India – something Brendon McCullum, the head coach, said he had no concerns about – but an extra seamer could be added this week depending on the situation Jimmy Anderson joins surface in the eleven. If so, the decision would be between Mark Wood’s pace or Ollie Robinson’s fast-medium.
Either way, it represents another major blow for Leach after he became first-choice spinner with 47 wickets under the guidance of Ben Stokes. Only Anderson, 55, and the now-retired Stuart Broad, 67, claimed more in the so-called Bazball era, while Leach has also become a central voice in the dressing room.
Hartley, Bashir and Ahmed appear to have thrived under the energetic leadership of Stokes, taking 26 wickets between them so far and helping to defeat India in all four innings. Hartley in particular appears to be well prepared on the pitch, with the left-back from Lancashire scoring game-winning figures of seven for 62 on matchday four in Hyderabad.
Nonetheless, the loss of Leach – 126 wickets in his 36 Tests so far – represents a significant loss of experience, with the remaining three frontliners having only six caps to their name. Facing an opposition that has not lost a series at home in 11 years, the biggest challenge of the Stokes-McCullum era has become even tougher.
Leach is the second defeat for England as Harry Brook left the team’s pre-series camp in Abu Dhabi for family reasons and is unlikely to return. India will be without Virat Kohli (personal reasons) and Mohammed Shami (ankle) for the entire series, while Ravindra Jadeja (hamstring) and KL Rahul (quad) will face late fitness tests this week.