The next Adam Gilchrist
Ever since the Birmingham-born Andrew Symonds declared himself to be "a fair-dinkum Aussie" after his selection for the England A squad in the mid-1990s, Anglo-Aussie dual-passport holders have had a dilemma - do they attempt to force their way into one of the strongest Australian line-ups of all time, or forsake the Baggy Green and pledge their troth to England?
Phil Jaques is one such man who stuck to his guns and remained true to Australia, and after flitting on the fringes for several seasons, he is beginning to gain the recognition his talents deserve. As a forceful left-hand opening bat, he is regarded by Steve Waugh as the next Adam Gilchrist - "a prototype for young players", no less - and when given an opportunity in steamy conditions against South Africa last season, he made a blazing 94 - the highest score ever made by an Australian one-day debutant.
Never backward in coming forward, Jaques has racked up thousands of runs for Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and New South Wales in the past few seasons - 6912 in 77 matches at the last count. Yet it is remarkable to think that, just three years ago, he was wallowing in Sydney club cricket, unwanted by New South Wales and only signed up by Northamptonshire on a whim. Five centuries and 1400 runs later, he was one of the hottest properties on the circuit.
Too hot, in fact, for Northants. They tried and failed to keep him, but his recall by NSW meant he could no longer be classified as a non-overseas player, and so he shifted to Yorkshire for two more prolific seasons. Few of his innings, however, have been quite so spectacular as his debut for his third county, Worcestershire, against Surrey this week. With an amalgam of Test-class tenacity and Twenty20 improvisation, he clobbered a breathtaking 64-ball century to spearhead one of the most remarkable run-chases of the decade.
These days, nothing is impossible where batting feats are concerned, as South Africa proved with their epic victory over Australia at Johannesburg in March. Jaques missed that match after he was surprisingly overlooked for the tour, but he was clearly paying attention to the implications of the onslaught. Needing the small matter of 287 in 32 overs, Worcestershire maintained a tempo of nine an over throughout, as Surrey were edged out by two wickets with just one ball to spare.
It was an extraordinary climax to a day that began with Worcestershire needing another 38 runs simply to avoid the follow-on. But with Jaques in the line-up, no target is safe, as England themselves may soon discover, if he plays his part in the forthcoming Ashes. Having won the battle for his batsmanship, Australia now expects a fair-dinkum show of allegiance.
"My heart says Australia, but I haven't ruled out playing for England. I want to give myself every chance of playing for Australia first. There are so many good players out there; it's a tough place to ply your trade, but if you score enough runs they'll have to pick you." Clear shades of Symonds's dilemma, as Jaques weighed up his options in September 2003, after a prolific first season for Northants.
"It is certainly an issue ... which he is aware of and we're all aware of, and the coach [John Buchanan] is aware of. We're obviously hoping he'll do something about it and we'll be there to help him wherever we can. If that means getting him some specialist attention, that's what we'll do." Australia's former chairman of selectors, Trevor Hohns, on the perceived fielding weaknesses that contributed to Jaques' omission from the tour of South Africa.
What you may not know
In the Cricketers' Who's Who, Jaques lists among his cricketing moments to forget: "any duck really". Which means he won't recall with much fondness his overseas debut for Australia at Cape Town in March. He was drafted into the squad as cover for Ricky Ponting, but contributed a fourth-ball 0 as Makhaya Ntini routed the Aussies for 93 with figures of 6 for 22.
What the future holds
At the age of 27, Jaques is approaching his prime just as Australia's senior players are passing theirs. As his former Northamptonshire team-mate, Mike Hussey, has spent the year demonstrating, prolific county form is no longer a red herring when it comes to gauging a player's international potential, and it surely won't be long before Jaques adds to his tally of two Tests and two ODIs. Whether he makes his breakthrough before or after the Ashes, however, depends on the longevity of the likes of Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo