JACK Leach’s face has adorned front and back pages over the course of a memorable cricketing summer - but anybody concerned this newfound fame might have gone to his head can rest easy.

“I wasn’t sure whether anyone was going to turn up” were Leach’s first words to the County Gazette when we met at an event put on by bat makers Millichamp & Hall at the Cooper Associates County Ground.

Turn up they did, with excited young cricketers from near (pupils at Leach’s old school, Bishop Fox’s) and far (a family who travelled from Plymouth) making the most of the chance to meet English cricket’s latest cult hero.

Much of their discussion, of course, centred around ‘that’ day at Headingley.

Leach’s one not out in a last-wicket partnership of 76 with Ben Stokes saw England level the series at 1-1 and, though they ultimately failed to regain the Ashes, the stand provided one of the iconic moments of a summer packed full of them.

“It shows what an impact it’s had and how it’s reached out to so many people,” Leach said.

“When you’re out there you don’t quite realise what it will mean to people.

“I have had a lot of conversations with people who have told me what they were doing when Headingley happened.

“I still remember where I was in the 2005 Ashes so these are big things which get people interested in playing and watching cricket. It’s amazing to see.”

The Headingley innings was not the only one to catapult Leach into the national consciousness this summer.

Opening the batting as a nightwatchman against Ireland at Lord’s in July, Leach looked every inch a top order player on his way to 92 before falling just eight runs short of a place on the honours board.

The knock came after England had been bowled out for 85 in their first innings and was made more remarkable by Leach's own form with the bat leading up to that day.

Leach had scored 42 runs in 12 innings for Somerset in 2019 before walking out as England’s opener – a lean run which had its roots in being struck on the helmet by Surrey's Morne Morkel at Guildford in June last year.

“It has been a lot of hard work,” Leach said.

“Greg Kennis, our batting coach here at Somerset, has been really helpful. Steve Davies and Azhar Ali also helped me in the nets early season with short ball sessions, which I didn’t want to do but which gave me confidence I could do it.

“Just before the Ireland game I looked back at an innings I played against Lancashire last year where I scored some runs [Leach made 66 to save the game for Somerset].

“I looked at what I was doing and reverted back a bit in terms of technique, trigger and set up. It’s always good to remember what you did when you were doing well.

“That Ireland innings was so important. To face that many balls and concentrate for that long a period, I felt I had worked out a method. I was able to take that into the Ashes.

“When I first came into First Class cricket I felt I could hold the bat but then I went through a time where I felt like a genuine number 11 – mainly because I felt scared to go and bat.

“It has been a good journey to go through as a player and you learn a lot about yourself. I’m proud of the way I’ve come through it.”

Leach’s diligence and work ethic have been apparent on countless other occasions in recent years and his defiance in the face of adversity have made his triumphs this summer all the sweeter for anyone who has followed his career - a journey which thousands more cricket fans are now invested in.

“You get more attention in terms of people coming up to you - and a few more followers on Instagram and Twitter,” Leach said.

“The heightened pressure of the Ashes, with the highs and lows of the series, take it out of you but I am happy with how I coped.

“The support I got from the public was incredible and I can’t thank everyone enough for that.

“You have to embrace what comes with it rather than shying away from it - I try and put myself in the shoes of when I was a young kid playing cricket with my mates.”

Nowhere was that attitude more apparent than in the picturesque surroundings of North Perrott in August, when Leach turned out for his boyhood club Taunton Deane between Test matches to keep himself in rhythm.

“At that stage, I wasn’t going to be involved in the Ashes,” he said.

“I wasn’t in the squad for the first Test and there was no Somerset four-day cricket - I needed to play.

“It was great to go back to the Deane and remember what it’s all about.

“It was a good Saturday and I was pleased we won as they had been winning all the time. I didn’t want to come back and they lose – I might not have been invited back!”

Leach’s whirlwind few months didn’t end on the cricket field, with one final surreal experience earlier in October to top it all off.

Having accepted an invitation during the ecstatic aftermath of England's famous win at Headingley, Leach joined Tailenders podcast hosts Greg James, Felix White and Jimmy Anderson for a live show in front of a full Hackney Empire, tickets having sold out within minutes of going on sale.

“That was probably one of the best days of my life,” Leach said.

“I probably felt more nervous going on stage there than walking out at Headingley!

"It was amazing to see how Greg, Felix and Jimmy have embraced that podcast, how much they love doing it and the listeners love it.

“It gives you that perspective. Obviously we take cricket very seriously, it’s our profession and we should do, but it’s important to remember it’s a game and people love it for what it is.

“I listened to a couple so I knew what it was about but nothing was going to prepare me for that day.

“I’ve started listening back to it from the start now and it’s so good. I can’t thank those boys enough for how they welcomed me – they are absolute legends.”

As fondly as Leach reminisced about his life-changing summer, the spinner was also keen to stress the importance of moving on quickly.

With that in mind, his attention now switches to a two-Test series in New Zealand as the protagonists from July's incredible World Cup final go head-to-head once more.

It is a destination which holds fond memories for Leach, who made his England debut in Christchurch in March 2018 and now returns looking to add to his 32 Test wickets.

“It’s a great country with great people – it’s a nice place to tour,” Leach said.

“It’s an exciting squad with a few new guys in there who I’ve played Lions cricket with. We have a new coach too, in Chris Silverwood, so it feels like a fresh start in a way.

“This summer has given me belief I can hold my own at that level but if I want to go on and dominate at that level there are things I have to keep improving.

“It has been important to have a break and think about how I was going to prepare for New Zealand.

“I’ve done good work in the nets and I’m excited to put what I’ve learned into practice.”