Jack Leach, the left-arm spinner, is a doubt for England’s international fixtures this summer due to health concerns.
Leach takes immunosuppressant medication, which places him on the list of people considered ‘vulnerable’ to Covid-19. He has suffered from Crohn’s, the inflammatory bowel disease, since he was 14, and the medication he takes to manage the illness weakens his immune system, leaving him at higher risk of contracting the virus.
The UK government has advised ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people to ‘shield’ at least until the end of June, by staying at home without exception. It is unclear from official guidance whether Leach falls into the more extreme risk category, though the government’s list includes “people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection”, which would appear to match his status.
Newly issued government guidance on elite athletes’ return to training states: “Athletes or staff deemed ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ should continue to follow government advice. This currently includes maintaining ‘shielding’ and therefore, not engage in a return to organised training outside of the home.”
The guidance also says that sports should prepare a risk assessment and risk mitigation plan which should include “agreeing a clear position on how athletes and staff who are deemed vulnerable or are in a household with vulnerable individuals interact with the training environment, which must be in line with government advice on clinically vulnerable individuals”.
James Taylor, one of England’s selectors, is also unlikely to be seen at games this summer. Taylor was forced to retire from cricket aged 26 in 2016 after he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition that also places him in the ‘vulnerable’ category.
England are unlikely to risk including Leach in their squads for the planned Test series against West Indies and Pakistan, which are expected to involve players staying in on-site hotels at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford to create a ‘bio-secure environment’.
On tour in New Zealand last winter, Leach contracted sepsis following a bout of food poisoning, later admitting that he had feared for his life. He later returned home early from the tour to South Africa after contracting the bug that swept through the England camp in Benoni. In March, he told the Mail on Sunday that he would be “lying low” during the pandemic, and that he was “just trying to do the right thing”.
“It was probably a bit naive of me to think I could play international cricket again so soon after the sepsis, and get on the tour of South Africa,” he said. “My body couldn’t deal with that, and each new infection becomes harder work.”
A Somerset spokesperson confirmed that Leach is healthy and has not contracted Covid-19.