Back-breaking pain is over for Jaques
New South Wales openers have had a high profile throughout the season but the state's most experienced specialist has only been spoken of in Test terms when remembering his past exploits. Last June Phil Jaques had an uncertain future following three back operations, but after completing a full campaign with the Blues he heads to England next week to re-join Worcestershire and continue a journey that he wants to finish in Australian selection.
He leaves home with the satisfaction of gaining a two-year deal with New South Wales that provides security in the next phases of his career. It is a huge boost given the state is crammed with openers - Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich and Shane Watson are in the Test unit in New Zealand - and the squad is packed with impressive young batting talent in Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith and Moises Henriques.
Jaques, who is 30, has earned the loyalty during a decade of consistent output and he played in every New South Wales game in 2009-10, which was a significant achievement considering the doubts over his back. "It's a big relief," he told Cricinfo of gaining the contract. "I wasn't sure where I was heading. [Before the season] I wasn't really sure what was going to happen beyond this year. I can really push forward now and get some figures up on the board next summer."
When he walks out to bat he knows his back is not going to break and the prosthetic disc that was replaced between L5 and S1 has become part of him. For three years he struggled with the problem while establishing himself as a Test batsman, but he was forced home from India in 2008 and has since been stuck on 11 Tests, 902 runs and three centuries. Over the season he modified his training, focussing more on recovery and shivering through a lot of ice baths, and feels strong again.
A three-month stint with Worcestershire is the next stage in his re-development and it will be the sixth time he has appeared on the county circuit. He has also represented Yorkshire and Northamptonshire and four of those seasons resulted in hauls of more than 1000 first-class runs. A British passport streamlines the appointment but there is no thought of him trading his Australian status when there is the goal of another Test.
He is firm when asked if he has given up on playing for his country? "I wouldn't be playing cricket if I had," he said. "I'm very ambitious, I still want to play the highest level I can. If that opportunity came around again I'd grab it with two hands."
Cricket delivers a variety of role models and Simon Katich is the one who older players look to after a long absence from the top team. "Simon got back in the side when he was 33," Jaques said. "There's no reason why I can't do what he's done. I definitely model myself on what he's done. He's the prototype of fighting back from being dropped or being out of the side. I definitely take some inspiration from that."
Katich returned to national attention by breaking records at New South Wales and Jaques will have to be in peak form if an opening reappears. He rates his first season back as "solid" and something to build on. There was a century in the Sheffield Shield along with four fifties and 636 runs at 39.75. The highlight was a mighty 171 against Queensland, the second-highest score in the one-day competition, and overall it was enough to prove his value to himself and those around him.
In Worcester he will build on his batting and his body until he is replaced by Smith for the Twenty20 games and Shakib Al Hasan for the second half of the first-class campaign. "As the home season went on, my back got better and better," he said. "To stop now would be a waste. The first three months, it will be good to get back into the habit of scoring runs and playing all the time. Then I'll have a bit of a break and freshen up and hit the season running next year. We'll see how it all unfolds."