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'Ambition will never stop' - Will Jacks and Benny Howell fly the England flag at BPL

The 23-year-old batter and 33-year-old allrounder on how the Bangladesh T20 tournament has helped them grow their game

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Will Jacks smothers one into the leg side, Chattogram Challengers vs Minister Group Dhaka, BPL 2021-22, Dhaka, January 22, 2022

Will Jacks: To score fast, without getting out, it is something that has taken me quite a while to figure out  •  Chattogram Challengers

Stay still, watch the ball and play your shots fearlessly. This has been the simple mantra followed by Will Jacks and Benny Howell, the English duo which has played a significant role in taking Chattogram Challengers to the BPL playoffs.
Jacks' unbeaten 92 in their last league game against Sylhet Sunsrisers was a single-handed effort that got them up to ten points. Chattogram, who started off very well in the competition before losing their way in the middle, face Khulna Tigers in the eliminator match on Monday evening.
Those following the BPL this season believe that Jacks holds the key to Chattogram's progress in the knockout stage. The 23-year-old is currently the second-highest scorer in the competition with 398 runs at 44.22. That includes four fifties. He is only 10 shy of Tamim Iqbal at the top but more significantly, he is leading the pack in powerplays performance, having scored 249 runs at 171.52 with 15 sixes.
Jacks said that he has had fun scoring these runs but admitted that he needed time to figure out Bangladeshi conditions. In particular, he spoke about resisting the temptation to play a lot of shots.
"The key is to play without fear," he told ESPNcricinfo. "It is tough sometimes to be really aggressive, to score fast, without getting out. It is something that has taken me quite a while to figure out, what my good options are to get me to the boundary with the least amount of risk. Obviously watching the ball and staying still, taking as less risk as possible with the maximum reward.
"The ball doesn't quite bounce as much [in Bangladesh] as it does back in England. You have to limit the areas of the ground you're usually scoring. I found out that it can be quite hard to play cross-batted shots off seamers. It often takes people a couple of games to get used to it. You just have to almost fight with yourself to do the right things for this wicket compared to stuff that you do back home."
Jacks' team-mate Howell is ten years older, but the veteran allrounder has proven just as effective for Chattogram, particularly in the latter part of most of their innings during this campaign. He has been the leading scorer in the other end of a T20 innings, the last five overs.
"If you come in a little bit earlier and you have some high-quality spinners in, it is not always easy," Howell said. "I think facing the seam bowlers is a little easier on these wickets. I am lucky enough to come in towards the middle or end of the innings where I get to face majority of seam bowlers.
"I do a lot of my research and study on what they plan to do, what their different change-ups are, so I know what to expect when I get in the game. It gives me a little bit of a head start, I think."
Howell is having a second wind as a batter, which he believes had a lot to do with his work with Julian Wood, the power-hitting coach who coincidentally has worked with the Sylhet franchise too. Howell said that they tried a lot of different things to improve his stance.
"I actually focused a lot on my batting in the last two months leading into the BPL," he said. "I worked a lot in the indoor school back in England. I always knew myself as a batter originally but my bowling took over as my main strength. I want to get back to my batting, so that I can add a lot more value to teams with my all-round game. It is probably why it has come off well in this tournament.
"He [Wood] has worked out the best possible positions to be able to hit a lot of balls for fours and sixes, that normally with the traditional batting stance might not be able to have the power to do that. I have worked with him with all the heavy bats and light bats, heavy balls and light balls, to improve my bat swing and bat power."
Jacks also believes the BPL has helped him become a better player of spin.
"I think there are two different ways of playing spin. I think when I play spin in England, there's less spin and more bounce. You can play it in a completely different way, and still score quickly. To score quickly here, I have been sweeping a lot. I have also probably used my feet more than I have done in England. I feel my game against spin has grown considerably," he said.
As good as he is, Jacks remains on the fringes of the England T20 side and missed out on the tour of the West Indies earlier this year. But he's learning to take all that in his stride.
"There's a little bit of disappointment there but it is not something that I will be held up on," he said. "I know that if I score runs, hopefully my opportunities will come around soon. The England squad is ridiculously talented and one of the best in the world in white-ball cricket. It is incredibly hard to break into that team."
Howell too harbours dreams of playing for England. He has done well for Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred, and believes that when the call comes, it will be due to his growing catalogue of skills that now includes bowling legitimate offspin and legspin. He has switched to being a spinner during certain overs in the BPL.
"I think you have to keep it simple with your own game," Howell said. "You roughly know your role by your batting position, and you have to adapt to situations wherever you bowl. I have been quite relaxed. Luckily it has come off well with the bat.
"My bowling hasn't been as good as it has been in the last few years. But I am happy with I have also managed to get my legspin and offspin out in the game. It adds values to the team, and especially pushing to play for England. That ambition will never stop."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84