HomeNewsJack Leach’s lucky England wicket showcases randomness of Test cricket | Jonathan Liew
Jack Leach’s lucky England wicket showcases randomness of Test cricket | Jonathan Liew
June 24, 2022
It was shortly before tea at a clammy, claustrophobic Headingley when Jack Leach stepped up to bowl the final over of the session. After a promising start Leach had begun to lose the thread a little, and so had England.
Henry Nicholls had dropped anchor for 98 balls; Daryl Mitchell had simply picked up where he left off at Lord’s and Nottingham; the partnership between them had lasted 20 overs and was slowly squeezing the air out of the day.
By now, you’ve probably seen what happened next. In a way, the virality of the moment – the way social media can beam it to a billion mobile devices within a matter of seconds – quickly eroded its effect. The thunderous straight drive by Nicholls, the evasive squirm by Mitchell at the other end, the looping deflection off his hanging bat, the simple catch by a disbelieving Alex Lees: as with all content, watch it enough times and before long it all begins to feel a little inevitable, almost predestined.
The closest parallel, perhaps, was with the freak boundary off Ben Stokes’s bat in the final over of the 2019 World Cup final. Of course, that won England a World Cup, whereas the stakes here were on a different scale entirely. Indeed, given that Nicholls’s dismissal simply brought in Tom Blundell, who insouciantly accompanied Mitchell to stumps and hauled New Zealand back into the game, you might argue it barely affected the course of the match at all.
And yet for the spectators at Headingley on Thursday you suspect it will be the passage of play they remember above all others; the one they will discuss around the dinner table; the one they will recount in years to come. For Leach, coming into this game short of form and nursing a poor record against left-handers, it may prove a quietly pivotal moment. For Nicholls, too, trying to bat himself back into nick after missing the Lord’s Test with Covid, it was the sort of spectacular injustice upon which entire careers can change direction.
Of course, Nicholls’s dismissal might just as easily have occurred in a Twenty20 or a Ten10. But it wouldn’t have had the same startling effect. It would, instead, have felt like a mere extension of the product: simply the latest in a string of outlandish events. This is the problem with constructing a sporting universe in which supposedly miraculous feats occur every other ball: when the real miracles, happen, they’re much harder to spot.
Which is why, on a slow and taut day in Leeds, in the 2,467th men’s Test match, a single flukish deflection felt so special. It wasn’t the result of a grand masterplan. It wasn’t written into the rules. It wasn’t voted into existence by television viewers.
It happened for no reason, and if you watch Test cricket until your dying day you might never see it happen again. Here, perhaps, was the real moral: if you want something to appear out of nothing, you need to let nothing happen in the first place.