Joe Leach admits he has felt like “a kid in the toy store” after returning to full training at Blackfinch New Road following a lengthy injury lay-off.
The Worcestershire captain has been going through his paces since the squad reported back in mid November for their winter programme of strengthening and conditioning work up until the festive season.
It was a frustrating few months for Leach who was side-lined from early June with a stress fracture of the back and missing out on the stunning County’s Vitality Blast triumph.
The 28-year-old had been his side’s talisman with the ball with 193 County Championship wickets during the previous three seasons.
But now Leach is looking to kick on again from next summer and here he looks back to last summer and the challenges and goals ahead in a Question and Answer session with the Worcestershire CCC website.
Question: Joe, please can you give an update on your progress?
Joe Leach: “I’m in full training. I had a scan the week before we came back to full training and it shows everything is going in the right direction.
“Back fully fit at the right time for Dewsy (Strengthening and Conditioning Coach Ross Dewar) to hammer us for a few weeks going into Christmas!
“I’m like a kid in a toy store at the moment. I’m absolutely loving coming in every day and having a full part in things after a frustrating three or four months.”
Question: Does being side-lined make you realise how much you miss playing and the involvement?
Joe Leach: “Definitely. I was thrown in the deep end really after never having missed cricket through injury.
“To miss the semi-final (in the Royal London One-Day Cup) and then to watch the way the season progressed and missing out on it was pretty painful although naturally I was delighted for the lads and the club.
“But hopefully it is the best for the long run and the injury fully heals and I come back stronger and fitter next year.
“I’m just really excited already to get going even though I don’t really want to wish the winter away. “
Question: So what is the timetable for you?
Joe Leach: “It’s like a standard winter to be honest. I probably won’t bowl until the New Year and then we will just gradually build it up through January, February, March and hopefully hit the ground come running for the season.
“I’ve not picked up a ball to bowl yet but all the stuff I’ve done in the gym has been pretty strenuous, as you would imagine, and all the medical scans seem to b e positive. I’m quietly optimistic I should be okay.”
Question: How did you cope with not playing for three or four months?
Joe Leach: “It took some adjustment. I did a little bit of radio work, I sat up here (in the dressing room area) a lot and probably got under people’s feet!
“It is a really fine line between being around and being a pain, because you can’t have any direct impact on what is happening on the field, and wanting to show my support and be around the group as well.
“It is a really fine line I hope I managed to tread pretty carefully but it is the one thing (an injury) you don’t want. After having three or four good seasons, it was frustrating but I suppose these things happen.”
Question: Kevin Sharp was saying it will now be like starting the second half of your career. Is that a fair assessment?
Joe Leach: “I suppose it is really. Sometimes breaks like this one, although no-ones wants them, in a way they allow you to re-evaluate where you are at, take a step back from your career and have a look at home things are going, the things you want to improve on and get better at.
“I’m 28, it has maybe been a ‘half-time break’ in some respects, certainly not one that I wanted but you have to make the best of bad situations sometimes and use this time to come back better and stronger.”
Question: Are the best years still in front of you?
Joe Leach: “I hope so. I’m going to continue working for that to be the case. We’ve spoken a lot in the past about how I don’t try and focus on my own individual performance and it’s all for the team, and especially since I took over the captaincy, that has been at the forefront of my mind all the time.
“I’m still captain, so that (approach) will continue to be the case, but I suppose this little break has given me the chance to think about where I’m at and what I need to do to have several more years playing at a high standard.”
Question: You don’t say you don’t think about your own achievements, but what you achieve does help the team?
Joe Leach: “Of course it does. I’m not naïve in that respect but I don’t focus on my own achievements. There is probably a little subtle difference in the way I approach things.
“Obviously, a nice three or four years, but it will be nice to put together another three or four together that are similar.”