Jack Leach's performance shines after Ben Stokes' words of encouragement in finely balanced England v New Zealand Test

Jack Leach’s five-wicket haul keeps England in the game as New Zealand sets up thrilling final day finish

England spinner Jack Leach receives praise from captain Ben Stokes after taking five-wicket haul against New Zealand

Jack Leach has thanked England captain Ben Stokes for keeping his spirits up during a tough fourth day against New Zealand, which saw the spinner take a five-wicket haul to keep the visitors in the game. England’s bowlers toiled on day four but eventually bowled New Zealand out for 483 runs, setting up an enthralling final day with all results still possible.

Enforcing the follow-on earlier in the second Test match, it looked like England would come to rue that decision when Kane Williamson shared a 158-run sixth-wicket partnership with Tom Blundell to set New Zealand on their way to a second innings lead of 258. However, Stokes encouraged Leach and the team to keep plugging away, giving everything they had and enjoying the graft rather than worrying about things not happening.

Leach persevered, bowling over 60 overs in the second innings, and was rewarded with figures of 5-157 in 61.3 overs, at an economy of 2.55 – the best figures of all the bowlers in the England side. Stokes has backed Leach despite some quarters calling for changes in the spin department, and only Jasprit Bumrah has taken more wickets away from home than Leach since his debut in 2018.

Leach believes England can complete the run chase on the final day’s play and therefore complete a series victory, saying “We’re very confident we can chase it down. We know how we want to go about our chases. It is a case of us sticking to our process and trusting that will work.”

With the full support of Stokes behind him, Leach feels their relationship on the field is going from strength to strength, saying “I feel like I have come on a lot. Stokes has tried to talk about wanting to challenge me, and that is going to help me. Him putting me in those situations is really helpful. I have learnt a lot and things I want to take forward into my practice. Our relationship has really grown as well, and he is helping me a lot. The more we enjoy it the better we play, so that was the message and it worked.”

Former England captain Sir Alastair Cook believes New Zealand missed a trick at not going hard at Leach, while fellow bowler Steven Finn praised Leach for his outstanding performance in holding down an end when enforcing the follow-on.

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