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Match Analysis

Will Jacks signals England ambition with Hundred masterclass

"That's driving me... It's really good competition and it's good for English white-ball cricket"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Will Jacks walks off after making 108 not out  •  Getty Images

Will Jacks walks off after making 108 not out  •  Getty Images

Will Jacks was on 94 when he decided that he would reach his hundred with a six. Every time he got back on strike in the 90s, the 21,677-strong crowd at the Kia Oval cheered, and Jacks decided they deserved a final flourish. "They were all screaming," he said. "I thought to myself: I've got to get there with a six. For the crowd, I have to do that."
He crashed two singles to boundary-riders off Michael Hogan, and when Rehan Ahmed tossed one up, into his arc, he couldn't resist: "I just had to go for it," he said. He nailed the ball over wide long-on and punched the air as his home ground stood to applaud. After a hug with Sam Curran, he took a moment to let it all sink in, before putting his helmet back on and swinging Ahmed for six more to finish the game with 18 balls to spare.
It was only four days ago that Will Smeed hit the first-ever Hundred hundred, also against Southern Brave, but Jacks' innings was even more dominant. He scored just over three-quarters of Oval Invincibles' 142 runs, 88 of his 108 coming in boundaries; Curran's 11 not out was the second-highest score. "It was all about one man," Sam Billings, their captain, said. "It was seriously special."
Jacks has been part of Surrey's first team for five seasons, so it is easy to forget that he is still only 23 years old. He had never hit a T20 hundred before Sunday night - "it's been one of my goals for the last three seasons, so it was nice to finally tick it off" - but has been a relentless run-scorer in the Blast, averaging 33.85 with a strike rate of 152.65 across the last three years.
Blast crowds at The Oval are consistently among the best in the country, but Jacks has come into his own playing in the Hundred, relishing the occasions afforded by standalone, televised games: "It's a great occasion every time you play in the Hundred," he said. "I was really buzzing for tonight." He is the third-highest male run-scorer across its one-and-a-half seasons to date, with an unmatched strike rate of 185.63 to boot.
His success in Surrey's Championship side this year suggests his form is sustainable, too, with a strong grounding in the first-class game and an orthodox style: 53 of his runs on Sunday night came in the 'V' down the ground, and his most productive shot was his textbook, high-front-elbow off-drive.
Jacks started brightly against the swinging ball, twice punching George Garton through the covers before launching him for a huge six towards the gasholder at square leg. Shortly after easing his way to a 27-ball half-century, effortlessly finding gaps in the infield and clearing the ropes on demand, he was hit on the toe, and decided it was time to launch.
"It was pretty painful," Jacks said. "After that, I decided, 'I've got to whack it here,' because I didn't really fancy running. I was seeing it cleanly, and was in control of my mind. When you're in that zone, it doesn't matter who is bowling." He was right: he hit each of Brave's six bowlers for at least two boundaries, and scored at a strike rate of 150+ against all of them.
Jacks' clarity of mind on the pitch is matched by his concision off it. "Like everyone else, I really want to play for England," he said, straight to the point. "That's driving me. I'm just really hungry at the moment. There's a lot of players who are in that spot, guys who are playing well. It's really good competition and it's good for English white-ball cricket.
"I'm doing the right things at the moment. There's so much competition around, and everyone knows that. It's two innings, and that's it. Every time, you've got to go out there with the mindset that 'I have to score runs to put my name in that hat.'"
There is no shortage of talent at the top of the order, but he is clearly highly regarded. He was part of the Lions squad that thrashed South Africa at Canterbury this week, hitting 34 off 26 from No. 7 - "my strike rate was pretty similar," he joked - and would have been part of the 50-over squad earlier this summer but for Surrey's reticence to lose another player from their Championship side.
"He's been knocking on the door for a while now," Mahela Jayawardene, Brave's coach, said. "It's good for the tournament and it's good for English cricket seeing all the younger guys coming here and showing the skillset that they have. That's what it's all about: giving them an opportunity with international cricketers. That exposure will obviously help them."
It is a cruel twist of fate that if selected for England's tour to Pakistan in September, the man Jacks appears most likely to replace is his opening partner. Jason Roy's second-ball duck against Brave, cleaned up by a hooping Garton inswinger, was his third in four innings so far in the Hundred. On the back of a grim T20I summer, he desperately needs a score.
"Everyone is going to say he's got another duck, but that was a fantastic ball," Jacks said, quick to Roy's defence. "It swung back beautifully and hit the top of middle. He's an unbelievable player. I've stood at the other end from him for the last five years: I know just as well as everyone else what he can do.
"He's one of my good mates and I love batting with him. Everyone hopes he can find form. When he's on form, nobody wants to bowl to him."
Whether Roy comes good or not over Invincibles' final four group games, Jacks' presence alongside him will ensure that no bowler in the competition is relishing the prospect to bowl to Invincibles' opening pair.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98