People were singing my name and I thought 'What is going on?' - Jack Leach
If any confirmation were needed that Jack Leach has become an England cult hero, it came on the third evening at The Oval. Leach had walked out to bat alongside Jofra Archer, with England eight down and sitting on a 374-run lead when people began to rise in their seats and join in with a booming chorus that echoed around the ground: "Stand up if you love Jack Leach!"
Only those of a green-and-gold persuasion declined to join the choir. Leach's fan club has grown steadily since the middle of summer, but largely because of his batting exploits rather than his spin bowling. First came the 92 as nightwatchman opener against Ireland at Lord's, for which he was named Man of the Match; then the valiant 1 off 17 balls to accompany Ben Stokes into the history books at Headingley. In the first innings at The Oval, he held up his end while helping Jos Buttler to add 68 and lift England from trouble again.
Then there is the endearing routine of cleaning his glasses between deliveries. In part it is Leach's everyman appearance that chimes with the watching public - though the sight of fans at Old Trafford mimicking his bald pate and glasses prompted Kevin Pietersen to wonder in a column for a betting site whether Leach was becoming a "laughing stock".
On the final day of the series at The Oval, Leach made sure the talk would be about his bowling at last. He made key incisions to remove Marnus Labuschagne and Tim Paine before taking the last two wickets to fall for figures of 4 for 49 - his best in home Tests - in the process sharing all ten with Stuart Broad and his captain, Joe Root.
An all-time great - and Steve Smith— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 16, 2019
Congratulations on an incredible #Ashes series @stevesmith49. Leachy loves the glasses pic.twitter.com/q5mpc8UK1n
"Today I just wanted to be patient and felt if I did my job well then the wickets would come," he said. "I needed to put the ball in the right area and be patient. I got my rewards at the end, with some good catching from Rooty. Broady set the tone amazingly well earlier on, it was a real team effort. The Aussies fought hard but we did enough.
"It was nice to get some wickets on the last day. The support for me has been something I didn't think I'd ever experience. Maybe it's because of my batting, but I think it's mainly because I'm bald and have got glasses. The way the public have warmed to me is something very special and I don't take for granted. I can't thank them enough."
England were well on their way to drawing the series on Saturday evening, when Leach was warmly serenaded by the Oval crowd. Looking back, he was happy enough to acknowledge the moment of fortune at Headingley that saw Nathan Lyon drop the ball with a decisive run-out opportunity begging.
"Yesterday, when I was batting at the end, over there they were singing 'Stand up if you love Jack Leach', and then they started over there as well. I just thought 'What is going on?' Nathan Lyon came over and said to me 'How many beers do you owe me [for the run out]?' I think I owe him a lot. Sport is fickle and I guess you have to enjoy the good moments and not get too down about the bad moments. I have had some luck as well. Hopefully you earn that luck through hard work, I will continue working hard."
Leach has been a hit on social media, as well as in the stands, with a video of his re-enactment of the single he scored at Headingley receiving more than 5000 likes on Twitter. After Australia had retained the urn by winning the next Test, at Old Trafford, there were suggestions that Steven Smith had donned a pair of glasses in mock tribute - though it was later clarified to be a joke at the expense of bespectacled former Australia opener Chris Rogers.
"Smith came to me to let me know that it wasn't about me," Leach said. "I didn't know whether it was or wasn't. I was kind of hoping it was, and thought it was a good laugh. I was very embarrassed after Headingley when the video came out of me doing my one. I think I deserved that to be honest! That's why we got a picture together after the game with him wearing my glasses!"
Having made a low-key debut in Christchurch in March 2018, then missing out on the following Test summer through injury, it feels as though Leach has taken 18 months to become an overnight success. However, he does not intend to bask in his new status, and could well find himself involved in a momentous achievement of a different kind over the coming days, with Somerset closing in on the first-ever Championship title in their history.
"Somerset-Essex next week, I don't know if I'll play yet. I've been part of that Somerset season as well so I don't know. During this series it's been pretty mentally and physically tiring. But I probably haven't bowled too many overs, not a silly amount. It will be good to go back and try to win the Championship with Somerset because we've never won that."