Will Jacks seeks balance as red-ball ambitions re-enter the frame

Explosive white-ball hitter targets run of Championship games to boost his all-round game

Paul Muchmore
Surrey's Will Jacks on the drive  •  PA Images via Getty Images

Surrey's Will Jacks on the drive  •  PA Images via Getty Images

After a successful winter away honing his white-ball skills in T20 leagues, Surrey's Will Jacks is looking to strike the balance to excel across all formats in 2022.
Jacks, 23, has embraced his reputation as one of England's most promising white-ball hitters, but heading into his fifth season of senior county cricket, has only one first-class hundred to his name, and only featured in six matches of the 2021 County Championship.
Speaking at Surrey's pre-season media day, Jacks was keen to set out that his priorities for the season are split "50-50" between the red and white-ball formats.
"Obviously at the moment, I've been progressing more in the white-ball game and the T20 game, and haven't excelled in the longer form as much as I would have liked," Jacks said. "I'm really trying to nail down a middle-order spot that we possibly have available and make that my own.
"I'm working a lot on my offspin to try and become the second [spin] option, or if there's a greener wicket, we can play an extra seamer and I can be the spinner."
Jacks has a reputation as an explosive batter - in a T10 fixture against Lancashire in 2019, he hit a 25-ball century featuring six sixes in an over. The change of gears down to more attritional red-ball cricket can be challenging, but Jacks believes that mastering the basics will make it easier to switch between formats at short notice.
"It's definitely harder, especially having been away all winter. I came back on March 2 so exactly a month from then to the start of the season, basically to practice my red-ball play, I hadn't hit one since the last ball of the [2021] season.
"But it's definitely something I'm getting better at, changing between formats, because as long as you have a good solid base, I've tried to keep my technique simple this year."
It's the basics of balance and keeping his head up that Jacks has been working on at The Oval ahead of their season opener on Thursday against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
"I've been working on my head position, try not to fall over to the offside," he said. "It's a constant thing through the last few years, I'm trying to stay balanced and counter that and keep my head in line. And then just generic balance, which I work on for T20s to keep a good base, and it's obviously very similar for [red-ball], the basics are the same.
"I just have to get myself in good positions really, and once you do that, it's all mental, which I have to work on too, the patience, not being scared to bat all day to get a hundred - stuff that I haven't done too much in my career."
On the white-ball front, Jacks' winter saw him spend time at the Abu Dhabi T10 League in November, before a productive spell in the Bangladesh Premier League, where he topped the run charts with 414 in 11 innings for Chattogram Challengers, displaying his versatility on turning pitches away from the batting-friendly tracks of The Oval, and showing responsibility and patience beyond a gung-ho, hit-from-the-word-go approach.
"The pitches were very different, here [at The Oval] you probably face eight overs of spin, 12 of seam, it probably flips the other way round there, maybe like 14 of spin.
"So that was something for me to work out, if you found your single, found your options against spin, especially in the powerplay, you obviously face more dots in the powerplay, and it's important not to get worried about that. Because the spinners are very high quality, but the local seamers weren't as good, so when they came on I knew I could cash in.
"It was about planning out the whole 20 overs. When I'm at Surrey, we have a deep batting line-up, with international players, and I can just free-flow and just keep going with my shots, whereas as an overseas player I had more responsibility obviously."
A short two-match cameo for Islamabad United at the Pakistan Super League followed, and although he returned just 0 and 11 with the bat, Jacks called his time at the competition an "incredible experience" and is eager to return in future seasons.
"In Bangladesh, we didn't have any crowds, then it was 25% for the knockouts, so to go to Lahore and play in front of full houses - my last game we played against Lahore Qalandars and it was sold out - it was incredibly loud, it was a great atmosphere to be part of.
"It was like a T20 here but on steroids, with the horns and the loud noises. It's a great experience. The quality of the bowling in Pakistan is world renowned. It was a good challenge, unfortunately I only got to play two games, but it was something I loved and something I'll hopefully be part of again in the future."
One opportunity to revisit those Lahore crowds sooner would be to break into England's T20 side for their seven-match tour of Pakistan ahead of the T20 World Cup. But for now, Jacks' mind is firmly set on repeating his white-ball success on the home front - first with Surrey, for whom he was the Blast MVP in 2020 and their top run-scorer in 2021, and then in the Hundred with Oval Invincibles.
"Of course, that's the aim," Jacks said of his England ambitions, "but I can't really think about that, you've got to think about your performances here for Surrey, I've had two good seasons in the T20 Blast, so hopefully I can continue that and try to be the leading run-scorer here, work on my bowling, and then there's the second year of the Hundred obviously.
"We just want to try and win it this year. That'll be the main thing, trying to score as many runs as possible and win games for the team. We felt like we missed out last year. We had a great squad and probably should have been closer than we did. We've got the core of the squad back together so we'll be going all the way this year."

Paul Muchmore is ESPNcricinfo's Social media editor @paulmuchmore