England’s preparations for the second Test against New Zealand, which starts at Trent Bridge on Friday, have been boosted by the apparent recovery of Jack Leach, withdrawn from the opening match after an hour’s play after suffering concussion in the field. Leach will be assessed again on Thursday but is on course to prove himself available for selection, while Ben Stokes is said to be fully fit despite bowling gingerly in the nets on Wednesday afternoon.
Should there be any doubt over the captain’s ability to bowl England may decide to bring in another seamer, Craig Overton, with Leach and Matt Parkinson, who replaced him in the team at Lord’s, missing out. One bowler they will certainly be unable to call on, for this or the final match in the series at Headingley in a fortnight, is the injury-plagued Ollie Robinson, who, after an injection in his back on Tuesday, has been ruled out of action for at least three weeks.
After England’s victory at Lord’s, secured by Joe Root’s brilliant unbeaten 115 in the second innings, it seemed a lot of credit was being given to a couple of unlikely recipients. “The openers did a brilliant job throughout the whole game. In low-scoring games, 20 or 30 runs can be massive,” Root said. Stokes added: “Leesy’s only got 20 but it’s the best he’s looked in an England shirt. It’s something we’ve told him.”
Alex Lees certainly looked more fluent in scoring 20 off 35 in the second innings than he had in his seven previous knocks for England. But again he was dismissed for a score in what has become his signature range – in six innings since his forgettable debut in Antigua in March his highest score is 31, his lowest 20.
“To be praised for 20 is bittersweet,” Lees said on Wednesday. “If you can get a good 20, you know you can probably make 60, 70, 80. To get to 20, as an opener I know that’s the hardest part. To keep getting there and getting out is quite frustrating. But I know that if I trust it over a period of time I should be alright.
“Everybody can get impatient – there’s always something you want and you want it now. My challenge is to keep playing in the manner of that second innings and trust that it will come good.”
Lees knows plenty about being patient. He burst on to the scene as a 20-year-old for Yorkshire in 2013, averaging 47.8 and 44.3 in his first two seasons in the County Championship. But over the subsequent few years his form faltered and it took a move to Durham in 2018 to reignite his career and earn a Test call-up. Many might have expected it to come much sooner, but for Lees the timing has been perfect.
“Life experience helps you, the older you get,” he said. “I’ve got a young family now and that challenges you and gives you a different outlook on life. I’m a firm believer that whatever happens will come at the right time for a reason.
“I had some poor times at Yorkshire when I was pretty rubbish, but you learn from that and you try not to let those periods define you. I’m at the point of my career where it’s the best time I could play, not just from a cricket point of view but the whole of life.”
It remains to be seen whether Lees can succeed where so many have recently failed and flourish as an England opener. “I enjoy the battle. You face the best bowlers at – not always but sometimes – the worst time to bat,” he said. “That old Yorkshire stubbornness to get through a spell, or get through a tough day of cricket, is something I’ve always quite enjoyed. Sometimes it’s horrendous and then sometimes it’s also the best place to bat.”
The fact it is probably also the very worst place to hide from criticism is not a concern. “The nature of opening, in England and around the world, over the past few years has been quite difficult,” he said. “It comes with the territory. I’m more focused on what our group of players and coaching staff think. I’ll be listening to that group.”
Right now Lees will be enjoying what he is hearing.