In Brief

Has Jack Leach’s ‘muppet moment’ cost England the Ashes?

Steve Smith punishes England after surviving spinner’s no-ball dismissal

The Ashes 2019: England vs. Australia
  • 4th Test day two, Old Trafford 
  • Australia first innings: 497-8 dec 
  • England first innings: 23-1  
  • England trail by 474 runs

It turns out Jack Leach should have gone to Specsavers after all. 

England’s bespectacled spinner - whose now legendary one not out in last month’s Test at Headingley enabled Ben Stokes to hit the winning runs - might need a new pair of specs.

It was during yesterday’s afternoon session on the second day of the fourth Test at Old Trafford that Leach had Steve Smith caught at slip - by Stokes, naturally - for 118. 

An almighty roar erupted as the umpire’s finger went up and Smith turned for the pavilion. Leach leapt into the delighted arms of his team-mates as England’s nemesis departed and the hosts looked forward to mopping up the Australian tail. But then…

Replays showed that Leach’s front foot was perilously close to the line. No, surely, not, he hadn’t, had he? Smith saw the replay on the big screen and stopped his slow march back to the hutch.

Strewth, he must have thought, did he bowl me a no ball? The camera zoomed in on Leach’s foot and the umpires called for a review. 

Old Trafford, which had groaned to the wind on Wednesday, groaned to the sound of English fans barely able to believe what they were seeing. 

Leach had committed the cardinal spinner’s error of bowling a no-ball. And to Smith, the closest thing the 21st Century has to Don Bradman.

Back marched Smith to the crease, also in a state of near disbelief, to torment England by scoring a further 93 runs.

By the time he was finally dismissed for 211 there was little celebration from his opponents; they knew he had taken this Test out of their reach and perhaps set up the Aussies for a victory that will seal the Ashes.

One has to feel for Leach, a likeable, modest man, whose “Alan from accounts” persona is in stark contrast to the “Superman” exploits of Stokes. 

But it’s a timely reminder of the fickleness of sport. In the space of ten days Leach has gone from hero to zero, and England have been brutally reminded by Australia that, while they may be world one day champions, in Test cricket they are a very mediocre side.

Australia’s Steve Smith celebrates after reaching 200 in the fourth Ashes Test

Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

What they said about the ‘No Ball from Hell’

Steve Smith: “I was in a bit of a hurry for 20 minutes but after I got caught off the no-ball I switched myself back on.”

BBC Sport: “That is like thinking you’ve won the lottery then finding out that your ticket is a week out of date, but only after you’ve spent the money on a mansion, yacht, car and beer made from the tears of unicorns. And your wife has left you.”

Geoffrey Boycott: “That was a muppet moment from Jack Leach.”

The Sun: “Hero to Zero.”

Jonathan Agnew, BBC: “He was trying to hold it back a bit, which meant he extended his delivery stride, but he’ll be tortured by that.”

Cricinfo: “Smith was reprieved and England’s joy turned to despair. We may look back on it as the tipping point in this series.”

Today’s back pages

Ashes star Steve Smith leaves England in double trouble

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