'I dreamt about this more than playing for England': Ashes hero Jack Leach desperate to lead Somerset to their first County Championship title
English cricket's new cult hero will on Monday don his glasses for one last time this season to try to make his biggest dream come true and lead Somerset to their first county championship title.
Jack Leach is back home at Taunton as a key figure in the showdown between the championship's top two sides that could see perennial runners-up Somerset finally land what remains the biggest prize in domestic cricket after a 144-year wait.
The advantage is with Essex who take a 12-point lead into the final game of cricket's longest summer and will complete a county double after their triumph in Saturday's Twenty20 finals day if they can avoid defeat over the next four days.
Jack Leach is hoping to lead Somerset to their first ever County Championship title
But Leach will lead Somerset's attempt to make their own history in what could turn out to be a spin shoot-out with Essex's Simon Harmer as Somerset have to gamble by preparing one of Taunton's 'Ciderabad' turning pitches.
'I've grown up watching Somerset and games like this are what I dreamt of the most,' said Leach. 'I know winning the championship is something the club have never done and I dreamt about this more than playing for England because I never knew if that was possible. I've grown up at Taunton and it really is my home. It really does mean a lot to me.'
How much it would mean to everyone at Somerset after the near misses of five second places since 2001 and at the end of a season which will see one of their greatest players in Marcus Trescothick retire at the age of 43.
'It will be a great occasion for domestic cricket,' Leach told Sportsmail. 'To finish with first playing second and winner takes all is amazing. Coming after what's happened in international cricket this summer it's the perfect ending.
'Well, it will be perfect if we win! If you'd offered us this at the start of the season, a game at Taunton to win the championship, we'd have taken that so it's going to be special.'
Leach says he dreamt about winning the Championship more than he did playing for England
Somerset's need to win plus an uncertain weather forecast saw Harmer on Saturday predicting a pitch more suited to a two-day finish than four.'Whatever the wicket is the team who plays the best will win,' said left-armer Leach. 'Hopefully the weather stays good and both teams can put on a show. I certainly think it's good when spin is to the fore.
'Simon Harmer is world-class in my opinion. He came to Lord's before the Test against Australia and was very supportive of me. He sent me a lovely message after I'd bowled in the nets with him wishing me well and telling me to do what I do and that gave me a lot of confidence.'
Leach, 28, took four wickets as England defeated Australia to draw the Ashes at the Oval, including two in successive deliveries to complete the victory.
'I wanted to put in a performance like that,' he said. 'I felt clear in my mind what my role was for that day and I managed to do it pretty well. The more days like that in an England shirt the better.'
But it was with the bat that Leach became that cult hero, joining Ben Stokes in one of the greatest of all passages of Test play at Headingley, all the time studiously polishing what have become the most famous glasses in cricket.
The spinner became a cult hero for his role in England's incredible second Ashes Test victory
'I've watched the winning moment but not the whole thing so if I get a quiet moment and I'm really bored I might watch it all back again,' he smiled.
'It's not until afterwards when you see the reaction that your appreciate what has happened and what it means to people. It was very special and I have to thank Ben for letting me be part of that. Everyone says without me he couldn't do what he did but, let's be honest, without Ben I couldn't have done what I did! It was amazing.'
Since Headingley Leach's world has been turned upside down, with Test sponsors Specsavers offering him glasses for life and even his optometrist giving television interviews. At the Oval on the last day the crowd united to sing 'stand up if you love Jack Leach.'
'That was just crazy and I can't thank all the crowds enough for the support they've given me,' he said. 'It was a lovely feeling and it just makes me want to repay that faith.'
Then there is the world of Twitter and the various accounts that have popped up in Leach's name. 'I'm not following them and I don't know who's behind them but I did see a conversation between Jack Leach's glasses and Jack Leach's glasses cloth,' he added. 'And that's when I thought "the world's gone mad." But it's all good fun.'