'I was telling myself not to think about it' - Jack Leach on making 92 as a nightwatchman

Jack Leach punches into the off side Getty Images

Jack Leach's maiden Test fifty took plenty by surprise. It came as an opener - he faced the final over on Wednesday evening as a nightwatchman - on a difficult batting pitch, and his slightly ungainly style coupled with a first-class average a shade below 11 going into this game did not suggest a man with much natural talent.

When he was finally taken at slip off Tim Murtagh for 92, he had produced the second-highest score by an England opener since the retirement of Alastair Cook. Although he fell short of getting his name on the Lord's honours board, Leach was roundly applauded from the pitch after helping to erase England's 122-run deficit and give them a chance in the Test after being bowled out for 85 in the first innings.

Speaking to Sky Sports afterwards, Leach was proud but crestfallen at getting so close to an extraordinary slice of Lord's history. "I was telling myself not to think about it, which probably means I was thinking about it," he said. "Yeah, it wasn't to be but I tried my best and that was all I could do."

Despite spending most of his career as a tailender, Leach has worked hard on his batting over the past three years in particular, revealing in interviews with BBC Somerset that he had been focusing on improvement since becoming an England contender.

"It was nice to be out there this morning, trying to eat up some balls and take the shine off the ball and make it easier for the batters coming in," he said. "That's what I was looking at, and then it was just about seeing how far you can take it. You just take it one ball at a time, one ball at a time."

Leach has one career hundred to his name in senior cricket, and unbeaten 123 off 178 balls against Nottinghamshire's 2nd XI back in 2015. He has also scored a pair of first-class fifties, both against Lancashire at Old Trafford in 2017 and 2018.

On his Test debut in Christchurch in 2018, he scored 16 in a partnership of 48 with Jonny Bairstow to help his partner reach a hundred. In the second innings Joe Root declared with him unbeaten on 14.

"I said I was on for my first Test hundred, and he declared on me!" Leach said shortly after that innings. "We can save that for another day. I want [my average] higher than 30.

"Everyone's been saying how good my batting was looking, and it's an area I work really hard on. It was nice to form a partnership with Jonny and get him to his hundred, and just be annoying to New Zealand, so it's an area I want to keep moving forward on, and it's important that I keep contributing.

"It shows I haven't really scored the runs I should have done for Somerset, but I'm still learning."

In a previous interview at the start of the 2017, Leach revealed he had been working on his batting as a possible route into Somerset's white-ball teams, after a difficult winter in which he had to remodel his bowling action.

"It is something I've been working on over the winter," he said. "I did quite a bit with [then Somerset coach] Matt Maynard on my power-hitting, because I feel like that's a big area to improve on if I want to get myself into the white-ball teams for one-day cricket and T20 cricket, and that went quite well over the winter.

"It is something I'm working on, and it's a good feeling hitting it for six."

This was only his second innings opening the batting in first-class cricket, and the first had also come in a Test - against Sri Lanka in Pallekele last winter. Leach's achievement at Lord's was all the more remarkable having not reached double-figures in his 19 previous innings, going back to that Pallekele Test.

As for the match situation, Leach's own batting effort, as a regular No.11, suggests that Ireland are firmly in command, with a minimum of 182 to chase and one wicket left to claim. But he was confident that England's fight was far from over - and cited a thriller against India last summer as evidence.

"We talked about last summer against India where, at Edgbaston, the boys feel the wicket was better there than it is here," he said. "They defended 180 [194], and they finished 30 short, so I think you always have to keep believing, and we will definitely be doing that tomorrow."