Is Jack Leach England’s greatest number 11?

Alex Bowden

One of the reasons why the end of Aliens is so great is because of Newt. It probably doesn’t seem like that because Newt’s slightly annoying – but Newt brings tension, and tension makes things more exciting.

If you don’t know (and you should really try and fill this gap in your pop culture knowledge immediately if you don’t) Newt is a six-year-old girl. She is very resourceful, but she is still a six-year-old girl. As such, she is not someone who can take on the titular aliens. (Again, if you don’t know, the aliens from Aliens are fearsome things. They dispatch humans with the same ease that Shane Warne used to dispatch cheese toasties before he retired and his face changed.)

Ripley is the one who has to fight the aliens and it’s exciting because she can’t do that all free and unencumbered. She also has to think about Newt, who is much more vulnerable. Ripley can’t triumph on her own because that wouldn’t make sense. Both she and Newt have to survive. The weakest link brings the greatest tension.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

In the 2001 Edgbaston Test, Andy Caddick hit Shane Warne for six. Caddick’s 49 not out, which helped move his side from 191/9 to 294 all out, remains one of the all-time great Ashes innings by an England number 11.

Australia made 576 in reply and won by an innings.

The lesson here is that even when you do get a good performance from a number 11, it doesn’t often bring about meaningful results.


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This is one reason why when we talk about the greatest number 11s, we invariably judge them as comedy batsmen. That’s the only real area in which you can excel if you are, by definition, the worst batsman in the team.

But there’s worst and there’s worst. Measured against his tenth-wicket brethren, Jack Leach is already vying to be considered England’s finest last man in.

England’s leading scorer as a number 11 is James Anderson. Anderson is not a bad number 11, but whenever he unfurls a reverse sweep, everyone falls about laughing because what on earth is he thinking trying to play a reverse sweep, doesn’t he know he’s number 11?

But Jimmy plays the reverse sweep pretty well. Just because he’s the worst batsman in the team doesn’t mean he’s the worst batsman in history. When he saved England at Cardiff in the 2009 Ashes, he was batting at 10 because Monty Panesar – a man with decent technique and zero hand-eye coordination – was also in the side.

That’s the way it works. Sometimes there’s a guy worse than you, sometimes there isn’t.

Jimmy’s not a Phil Tufnell number 11 and he’s not a Devon Malcolm number 11. He’s a guy who can block the ball and play cover drives and reverse sweeps. He made 81 against India once.

Leach is even more than that. Leach is a number 11 so frighteningly competent that he has opened the batting for his country not just once, but twice.

The first time, against Sri Lanka, he made 1 – which is not very good.

The second time, against Ireland, he made 92 – which won the match.

In the second innings at Headingley in the summer of 2019, Leach was back at number 11 and he made 1 again. This time – crucially – it was unbeaten.

Cricket is a fantastic and ridiculous sport for how the moments of greatest tension are invariably in the hands of those who are least exceptional.

One not out off 17 balls, one run in an hour of batting – and yet without that one not out, we wouldn’t have had everything that Ben Stokes gave us.

Leach nurdled the run that ensured England could not lose and singles don’t come much better than that. If that was all he’d done, most England fans would be very grateful indeed.

But that wasn’t all he did. The man who opened and made 92 just a few weeks before took on a different job. He watched, he ran the singles and he blocked out whatever remained of each over.

He batted like a number 11. And he did it perfectly.

By Alex Bowden

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