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Feature

A maiden IPL hundred, a stunned Virat Kohli - Will Jacks has made a big impression

The RCB batter found form late this IPL season, but just in time for England ahead of the T20 World Cup next month

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
18-May-2024
Will Jacks swings one over the leg side, Royal Challengers Bengaluru vs Delhi Capitals, IPL 2024, Bengaluru, May 12, 2024

Big air: Will Jacks' IPL began with a couple of single digit scores before he found his rhythm and scored his first fifty and then a hundred in the space of three games  •  Associated Press

Will Jacks remembers looking at the scoreboard at Ahmedabad's Narendra Modi Stadium and thinking, "Wow, this could be cool." Royal Challengers Bengaluru needed seven to win against Gujarat Titans; six balls after reaching his half-century, Jacks had surged to 88 not out. His first IPL hundred beckoned.
At the non-striker's end, Virat Kohli was grinning. When Jacks slog-swept Rashid Khan for six to level the scores and move to 94, Kohli covered his mouth and laughed in disbelief. When Jacks swung Rashid over midwicket for six more, reaching a 41-ball century, Kohli ran down and jumped into his arms in celebration.
"As soon as I hit that last one, I knew it was going miles," Jacks says from Bengaluru. "It snuck up on me. I only got to my fifty the over before. I was just trying to get there as quickly as possible and win the game. Once I got my fifty, Virat was like, 'I don't want to face any balls - keep going.'
"When Mohit Sharma came on [in the 15th over], that was my match-up. I was going to take him down there, because I'd faced him for three or four balls before and I'd got a good eye of him. I knew that was my time, and after that there was no reason to stop. I didn't realise I could have got a hundred until we needed seven to win.
"Obviously a big celebration, a hug from Virat, and then I realised what I'd done. It was amazing. I just thought, 'I'm 100 not out in an IPL game - and two weeks ago, I wasn't even playing.' There's been a lot of attention since but I've loved the experience."
He has saved a photo in the "favourites" tab of his phone, of Kohli's reaction to the six that took him to 94, which he intends to get printed.
"Nothing's changed realistically: I've just scored some runs. I've always known I've been good enough, but to really dominate like that just lets everyone else know what I can do. But to do it with Virat, and have him hyping me up like that? It's special."
It was a far cry from the start of his innings: batting at No. 3, Jacks managed 17 runs off his first 17 balls. "I was gripping the bat a bit too hard," he reflects. "I was a little bit over-eager to hit the ball hard, which is a trap I've fallen into. On the back of seeing all these high scores and crazy sixes, I felt like I needed to do extra when I know - or I should know - that my game is good enough.
"They do have three high-quality spinners [Rashid, Noor Ahmed and Sai Kishore] and I didn't face a ball of seam until my 17th ball. I just needed to settle in, and Virat really helped me with that. He took ownership of the partnership and the risks while I was getting going, and made sure that we didn't fall behind - and that I didn't have to do something really unnecessary."
Jacks spent "ten-plus years" watching the IPL back home on TV but this was his first experience of playing in it, after he was ruled out of last season through injury. He was taken aback by the scale of support for RCB: "Everyone told me their fans were the best but now I've seen how crazy it is… I kind of expected it, but it obviously still takes you by surprise."
The same is true of the adulation for Kohli, and adjusting to calling him a team-mate. "When he first walked in and I first met him, that was surreal," Jacks said. "Seeing his aura, how people look at him, the following… even if you see a footballer in public at home, it's not like that. It's eye-opening. Everywhere we go - all the airports, every street - the support is incredible."
At 25, Jacks believes his first IPL season came at the right time in his career. "It would have been good to come earlier, but I wouldn't have been ready. I went to the Big Bash when I was 20 and it was great, but my game wasn't ready. I didn't know what I was doing, and I did crap. I'm happy where I am now: I can come in and try to dominate, instead of just going, 'Well, I'll try to get some runs.'"
RCB struggled at the start of the season but Jacks flourished in India, winning five of the eight games he played in and averaging 32.85 at a strike rate 175.57.
"I can't speak highly enough of it [the team]. Everyone is willing to share their experiences," he says. He worked closely in training with Glenn Maxwell, particularly on his method against spin, and played "a lot of golf" with him. "He's been outstanding with me. He's given me loads of his time."
He also grew close to Cameron Green, and they were sat next to one another on the team bus when they received their call-ups to their respective squads for the T20 World Cup. "He got called by George Bailey, then I got called by Motty [Matthew Mott] about ten minutes later," Jacks says, laughing. They might face one another on June 8 in Barbados.
This will be Jacks' first World Cup and he admits he was "disappointed" to miss the previous two. "I thought I was close but obviously it's tough to get in, which is understandable. My biggest goal for the year was to play in the World Cup - and hopefully win it, obviously - and this has given me confidence that I belong there. I know I'm ready for it."
With Jos Buttler and Phil Salt due to open, Jacks will start the tournament as England's No. 3. It is a relatively new role - he has batted there 22 times in his 165-match T20 career - and he has been learning on the job. "I only really started doing it on the Caribbean tour [in December] but it's something I'm getting used to and I've learned a lot in our last few games.
"For an opener, coming in after the powerplay and starting against spin is different, People have said to me since I was 12 years old that I can always catch up: Stewie [Alec Stewart, Surrey's director of cricket] always says to me, 'If you face 50 balls, we'll win the game.' It might only be 30 balls at No. 3, but I'm selfless and I want to put the team in a good spot and that's by being aggressive."
They are traits that he shares with his idol, Kevin Pietersen. "I don't remember ever trying to bat like anyone, but maybe he was in my head from watching him in the 2005 Ashes," Jacks says. "I was six then: that's the first cricket I really remember. Maybe that was ingrained in me from early on?" Jacks has met Pietersen but only sporadically. "He's someone who I'd like to speak to a bit more."
Jacks was 11 when England won the only previous men's T20 World Cup staged in the Caribbean, when Pietersen was named player of the tournament. The next few weeks will provide Jacks a chance to write his own name into England's T20 history.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98