JACK Leach feels fit, healthy and ready to prove that his best days as an England cricketer lie ahead of him.

The 29-year-old Somerset left-arm spinner is currently preparing for the first Test against the West Indies, to be played behind closed doors at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton from next Wednesday, July 8.

After a winter of illness problems that interrupted his international career, Leach believes the enforced break from playing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could actually help prolong his days on the world stage.

“My body feels fresh and ready to go,” he said. “I want to be positive about what the last few months have done for me - there has been time to reflect on what has been and what could be to come in my career.

“I feel in a good place to go on playing at a high level for a long time.

“There is no point in feeling sorry for myself over what happened in the winter.

“I want to start bringing my best to the party as far as England performances are concerned, because I don’t think I have really done that yet.

“At county level I can perform consistently over and over again, but that has not happened with England so far, and I believe I now have a better understanding of why that is.

“It’s a mental, rather than technical thing. I need to get my practice and preparation spot on leading into games so my head is in the right place.

“Knowing exactly what makes you tick is very important. I think a lot about the game in general and my game in particular.

“Perhaps I have been guilty of over-thinking at times, rather than keeping things simple and being more automatic.

“In my best moments, there has not been a lot going through my mind.

“If I think a lot about something, I believe I can control it better, but now I realise that isn’t always the case.”

While Leach’s record of 34 wickets in 10 Test appearances for England is more than respectable, he is currently best known outside of Somerset for his batting heroics.

Hailed as a cult figure for his courageous 1* alongside Ben Stokes in the third match of last year’s Ashes series, Leach had his hopes of further England glory last winter dashed by a succession of health problems.

The spinner, who has Crohn’s disease, fell seriously ill in New Zealand when a bout of food poisoning turned to sepsis, then picked up a stomach bug in South Africa and had to return early to England, while he has also had to overcome a torn calf muscle.

Now he and Somerset team-mate Dom Bess are battling to be England’s first-choice spinner, along with Moeen Ali, Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson and Surrey’s Amar Virdi.

“There is competition for places throughout the squad,” said Leach.

“That applies to five very good spinners and we want to work together to bring out the best in each other.”

Leach’s Somerset team-mate Lewis Gregory, meanwhile, believes that a hectic schedule of international and franchise cricket last winter has made him better prepared to fight for an England Test place.

The 28-year-old all-rounder knows he has to move up the pecking order to earn a debut against the West Indies, but he feels better equipped than ever to impress the selectors.

That follows a winter that saw him make his England T20 debut in New Zealand, captain the Lions in Australia and make his first appearances in the Bangladesh Premier League, Abu Dhabi T10 and Pakistan Super League.

“I learned so much from playing on different types of pitches, in new environments and from talking to top players from all over the world, who were involved in the various competitions,” said Gregory.

“After all that, I feel a much more rounded cricketer, with the knowledge to turn in more match-winning performances in all formats of the game.

“I am going to try to catch the eye sufficiently to stay with the squad when it is reduced ahead of the first game.”

Gregory could find himself up against Stokes in his efforts to gain the all-rounder role in England’s Test side... but he doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

“I think Ben may be viewed as a batsman, who bowls, and can act as fourth seamer,” he said.

“In red-ball cricket, I could be regarded more as a bowler, who can bat. That might mean an opportunity for us both to play.

“It is my ultimate ambition to play for England in the purest form of cricket and have a Test cap to show my grandchildren.

“Pulling on the Three Lions shirt for the first time in New Zealand was a huge thrill, as was taking a wicket with my first ball in that series.

“Now I want to build on that. When the start of the county season was delayed, I was happy enough to have extra time to chill out and forget about cricket for a short while.

“But as time went on, I became increasingly eager to get back in harness. I feel fit, sharp and ready to do myself justice.”

Gregory is one of five Somerset players currently in Southampton, and he added: “It’s great to have the other Somerset lads here.

“There is a bit of friendly competition between us because we all have the same ambitions, but it is a clear sign of all the hard work put in by the players and coaches at the club over the last couple of years.

“Whatever happens with county cricket this summer, we should have a well-balanced red-ball bowling attack in 2021, which will give us a major chance of winning that elusive first County Championship title.”