Why big-hitting Jacks could be perfect for Stokes’ England

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Will Jacks, centre, was part of the England team which won a seven-match T20 series against Pakistan earlier this winter
Venues: Rawalpindi, Multan & Karachi Dates: 1-5 December, 9-13 December & 17-21 December
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website, plus Test Match Special commentary on BBC Sounds

Will Jacks hits the ball a long way, is “an absolute gun in the field” and his part-time off-spin could be a vital weapon on England’s Test tour of Pakistan.

So it’s no surprise a man once thought of as a potential Twenty20 international has found his way into England’s new-look Test set-up, spearheaded by captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum.

Indeed, he might have secured himself a place in the starting XI with his blistering 84 off 48 against England Lions last week. It came weeks after he was named MVP by the The Professional Cricketers’ Associationexternal-link for his domestic performances in 2022.

“He can either go in from ball one and smash it, or he can go in at 7 and bat with the tail, see it out and then go mad at the end,” says cricket commentator Mark Church.

“The way he plays his cricket, I think he’ll fit perfectly into the McCullum-Stokes system.”

For a good portion of the past few years, 23-year-old Jacks has looked more and more ready for a spot in England’s side, especially in white-ball cricket.

A haul of 146 runs in the first edition of The Hundred in 2021 spoke of a player who was developing to a good level, as did 393 runs, including three half-centuries, in the Vitality Blast.

The season just gone saw Jacks blow his figures in each of those competitions out of the water: the Surrey man hit 261 runs in The Hundred, as well as blasting his way to a best score of 108* against Southern Brave – only the second instance of a player reaching three figures in the competition.

In the Blast, Jacks smashed 449 runs, passing the half-century mark on five occasions.

In fact, only established England stars Jos Buttler and Alex Hales, as well as Pakistan ace Shan Masood, had hit more runs in T20s than Jacks’ tally of 1,193 in 2022 at the time of his maiden international call-up for England’s summer T20 series against Pakistan.

Add 648 first-class runs alongside 17 wickets to those numbers in 2022, and you’re looking at a player developing into a true all-format star.

Here, some of those who know him best detail what makes him special.

‘He said ‘he’s not quick’… then hit their best fast bowler back over his head’

Mike Tilley is a former Guildford Cricket Club age group manager. Tilley managed a young Jacks for many years, including during a triumphant season in the National U15 T20 Cup.

“He played a big part in a number of the rounds [in the National Cup]. He scored 50 in the semi-final very quickly and another 30-odd in the final,” Tilley recalls.

“I particularly remember in the final, the opposition had a quick opening bowler who had pretty much bowled his team to the final. I told him just to be careful against him.

“He replied ‘he’s not quick’, and dispatched him back over his head in the first over.”

Both at club and county level, Jacks has frequently been star of the show, and Tilley remembers one instance where the batter showed his true prowess.

“I remember him scoring a double hundred for Surrey under-17s. The second hundred came in less than an hour.

“He definitely gave you the impression he was going to become a pro from an early age – he always worked at every aspect of his game in training: especially his batting, but he always wanted to play a part in the game, which I think is why he is such a good fielder and why at 15 he started bowling off-spin.

“He always had a touch of arrogance about him, but was a good team man.”

‘Nobody hits it as hard’

Corey Rocchiccioli played a season of Western Australia Premier Cricket with Jacks for Western Australia University in 2018, and lived with him during that period.

Rocchiccioli recalls Jacks’ first major contribution in first-grade cricket – a double ton against Claremont-Nedlands, after he was dismissed for a golden duck the week prior.

“He just brushed it [the duck] off and made a double hundred the following week. He just had one of those flow-state games, he really enjoyed batting out there. There was some conversation about him knowing exactly what he was on, he was counting his runs all the way up until his double hundred.

“I don’t think I’ve played with somebody who has found the middle of the bat as much as he does, or hits it as hard. He’s just an exceptional cricketer.

“He ended up making 600 or 700 runs; he left midway through January to be called up for the England Lions, but he was on track for a thousand-run season. He’d have done it pretty comfortably.”

Off the field, Rocchiccioli feels Jacks is as good a character as he is on it, despite some questionable skills around the house.

“It took a while for us to get him to learn how to cook, there were some very sketchy moments with him in the kitchen.

“One is Test level and the other is playing the lowest division ever, you can work out which is which between his cricket skills and his cheffing skills.

“His banter around the house was really good – me and my family like to give it so he slotted in perfectly. He probably gave it back as much as he got it, we gave him plenty of stick around the joint, especially after he made his double hundred, to get his head back down to earth.”

‘Shades of AB de Villiers’

Middlesex batter Max Holden captained Jacks for England Under-19s, as well as playing with him for England Lions.

“I didn’t utilise his bowling skills as much as I probably should have, but with the bat, at that age, he led the way with that positive intent in the middle order.

“[He was] unbelievable the way he went through the gears, the array of shots that he had. He hit it pretty much all around the ground, which obviously very few people can do. It looked relatively low risk, yet he scored so quickly.

“It’s so hard to set a field to him because he can hit the ball anywhere really with such power and precision – he’s not just someone who goes out there and just swings and whacks it, he’s quite precise in the way he goes about it – obviously he has enormous power when he does strike it.

“He’s a very efficient player of spin, he’s got pretty much every shot in the book, so I think he’ll adapt his game out there [the subcontinent]. Sometimes coming into the middle and starting against spin can be a different challenge to opening up in England.

“He’s got the ability to hit the ball around the ground, manipulate the field and if he wants to he can clear the ropes off the spinner as well.

“He used to hit me out the nets quite a bit. He’s obviously quite a tall guy so he can hit you off your length quite easily. It’s quite hard to know the accurate length to bowl because if you pitch it up he can come down the wicket but if you go too short he can rock back and hit the ball over the boundaries off the back foot.

“I think that’s something the best players in the world can do, guys at Middlesex who’ve come here, like [AB] De Villiers: they can hit spin off the back foot, which is something I think is quite rare, and is the sign of an international player from what I’ve seen. Jacksy can certainly do that.

“The way England are going with their Test cricket, the way they are looking to play that positive, exciting brand of cricket, I think he’d fit in perfectly.”

‘The complete package’

Mark Church, a BBC cricket journalist, has watched and interacted with Jacks for years while commentating on Surrey matches.

“He’s very focused, he’s very determined, and he’s very much his own man, which I really, really like.

“He likes responsibility, and I think because Surrey have told him ‘this is your job’ that has probably simplified it for him: he knew he was the go-to.

“This season, his development has been absolutely fascinating. He’s an incredibly talented lad, but I think we all knew the talent was there.

“We all know what he can do in white-ball cricket, we’ve seen that over the years. The hundred he got in The Hundred: it just showed what his game is about.

“In terms of red-ball cricket, the path he’s going on now isn’t one I thought would happen.

“With the bat, he’s everything I expected really. With the ball – there’s a lot of people who call him a part-time spinner, I’ve never gone down that route because he’s far better than that. Like any young spinner, he’s a work in progress, but he’s a genuine spin bowler.

“He’s an absolute gun in the field, you can put him anywhere. You can stick him on the boundary to sweep up, you can stick him at short leg, you can stick him in the slips, he’s just one of those, he’s an absolute natural.

“You put all those three things together and you put him in the right place, you’ve got a hell of a player in every form of the game.

“I’ve seen [Mark] Butcher, [Mark] Ramprakash, [Graham] Thorpe, and I think Jacksy would be up there.

“In terms of all the cricketers I’ve seen over however many years, there aren’t many that do what he does.”

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