England spinner Jack Leach has been ruled out of the 2023 Ashes after a scan revealed that he has a lower back (lumbar) stress fracture.

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Leach has been one of just five ever-presents for England under the captaincy of Ben Stokes, taking 45 wickets across 13 Tests – no bowler has more wickets for England since Stokes became captain.

Since Stokes took over the captaincy last year, Jack Leach is the only England bowler to take more than one five-wicket haul, doing so on three occasions. The Somerset bowler has bowled 179 more overs than anyone else under Stokes’ leadership.

England have announced that they will name a replacement for Leach “in due course.”

The news is a major late dent to England’s Ashes plans. Leach is highly regarded by Stokes and is regularly the sole specialist spinner selected in Test squads. Will Jacks, Rehan Ahmed and Liam Livingstone all played as spin-bowling all-rounders on England’s tour of Pakistan late last year, but offer different skillsets to Leach.

Jacks and Livingstone are much stronger batters than they are bowlers, while Ahmed is a wrist-spinner with a stronger googly than leg-break at this point in his career. Though he took a five-for on his Test debut in Karachi, Ahmed has six wickets from six matches for Leicestershire so far this season in the County Championship. Leach is the only English spinner to take 10 or more wickets in the County Championship in 2023.

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The injury is gut-wrenching for Leach. The 31-year-old was regularly in and out of the side under Joe Root’s captaincy but had firmly established himself as Stokes’ first choice spinner over the past 12 months. It’s not the first time that injury or illness has prevented Leach from getting on the field. In the 2019/20 winter, Leach contracted sepsis and at one point feared for his life; he also suffers from Crohn’s disease.