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The Ashes: Jack Leach injury puts England in a spin

News broke on Sunday that England spinner Jack Leach will miss this summer's Ashes after suffering a stress fracture to his back in the one-off Test against Ireland.

The Somerset left-armer’s understated style has often seen him overlooked, even by his own international captains, but he has played all 13 Tests since Ben Stokes took over as England skipper, taking 45 wickets.

That tally includes figures of 3-35 and 1-90 in the 10-wicket win over the Irish, but he complained of a back issue at Lord's and a subsequent scan confirmed he has suffered a stress fracture and will miss the Ashes.

The first Test against Australia begins at Edgbaston on 16th June, with the hosts 5/4 To Win the Match, with Australia 11/8 and the Draw 4/1.

WhatEngland v Australia, 1st Test
WhereEdgbaston, Birmingham
WhenFriday 16th June to Tuesday 20th June
How to watchSky Sports Cricket
OddsEngland 5/4, Australia 11/8, Draw 4/1

Latest of several blows for Leach

Sunday's news is the latest in a long line of injury and health issues for Leach, who has Crohn's disease, a condition that affects the digestive system, causing inflammation.

The 31-year-old also contracted gastroenteritis during the 2019 Tour of New Zealand, an issue that developed into sepsis, while last summer he was substituted against the Kiwis with concussion symptoms.

Leach's absence also comes as a psychological blow due to his history against the Aussies, notably his famous one not out at Headingley in 2019, when he fiercely defended his wicket, allowing Stokes to bat away the best the Baggy Greens could offer for his famous 135 not out.

A replacement is still to be announced, but the selectors will be scratching their heads, with the left-armer clearly a favourite of Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum.

With no like-for-like alternative either in style or experience and Australia having the ever-reliable Nathan Lyon - 9/4 to be Top Team Bowler in the series - to call upon in what could prove to be his final Ashes, those at the top have a huge call to make.

Who could replace Leach?

What marks Leach out from England's other spinners is his consistency.

While he does have hot streaks, notably taking career-best match figures of 10-166 in last June's win over New Zealand at Headingley, his metronomic style marks him out, allowing Stokes to give his seamers a rest safe in the knowledge that his spinner will not prove too expensive.

Despite announcing his retirement from Test cricket last summer, Moeen Ali has been talked up as a candidate to come in.

However, his record against Australia is strikingly poor, having made 11 Ashes appearances, taking a relatively meagre 20 wickets at an average of almost 65.

Leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed looked good against Pakistan in December, taking 5-48 on debut when working in tandem with Leach in Karachi.

Again, though, he is another with potential negatives. Although undoubtedly talented, the Aussies, 8/15 to retain the Ashes, would look to use the 18-year-old's inexperience against him and will undoubtedly target any weakness.

Will England look to shake things up?

The selectors could also use Leach's absence to firm up the middle-order, bringing Will Jacks and Liam Livingstone into the conversation.

Jacks took 6-161 in Pakistan but he lacks Leach's control, while Livingstone has taken 6-52 in first-class cricket, but he struggles with his economy.

Those two would offer something different and could be compensated for by Joe Root's 'golden arm'.

England, 11/8 to win the Ashes outright, could use those two to firm up the middle-order, whose members have seen limited county action, with the IPL and injuries preventing the likes of Jonny Bairstow from playing regularly.

Bairstow is on his way back from a freak leg injury suffered after a brilliant Test summer in 2022 and, having not had the chance to bat at Lord's, is still to record a half-century. 

Meanwhile, Yorkshire team-mate Harry Brook's limited exposure against Ireland was preceded by three ducks in four innings to finish his IPL campaign.

Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope all looked good at the top of the order against Ireland and were boosted by number four Root, 6/4 Top Team Batter for the Ashes, recording a sharp 56 from 59 balls.

Therefore, the top four almost selects itself heading into the first Test and without an obvious replacement for Leach, the selectors could make a defensive move by adding depth to their batting line-up rather than looking at Ahmed or making an SOS call to Moeen.

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