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Match Analysis

Will Jacks continues quiet rise to help give England window of opportunity

Novice offspinner showcases good fundamentals as well as a knack for taking wickets

Will Jacks claimed the big wicket of Babar Azam  •  Getty Images

Will Jacks claimed the big wicket of Babar Azam  •  Getty Images

Babar Azam walked slowly off the ground in Rawalpindi on day three, a fifth century in Pakistan in his back pocket, receiving every bit of deserved acclaim from the 15,000 strong crowd. A flat pitch is still only just a stage, and after England's punk rock effort in the first innings, Babar's turn was so classic he may as well have had a violin in his hands.
The departure was spine-tingling but the end itself was pretty, well, basic. Off balance, snatching at the ball and a duff connection straight into the hands of Jack Leach at point. Pakistan were now five down, England still 184 ahead, and Will Jacks had dismissed one of the best batters of this generation on a whim.
"A bit of disbelief really," responded Jacks when asked his feelings about the stature of the man he had just removed with his offspin. "It was the first ball of my spell, probably a bit of a loosener outside off and he cut it to point.
"He's obviously a very high-quality player, playing in his dream conditions really, so I can't complain about that one and I'm very happy."
Jacks' three wickets so far won't make a particularly impressive reel. His maiden scalp broke the opening partnership on 225 - Abdullah Shafique botching a cut himself to present an edge to Ollie Pope behind the stumps - and the third relied on Naseem Shah's tempestuousness, and a seriously good running catch from Leach out at deep midwicket this time. But among his 33 overs, particularly the 21 sent down for figures 3 for 82 on Saturday, the resolve shown by Jacks belies the fact that those dismissals, his place in the team, heck, even the fact he is bowling spin at all were more through accident than design.
Perhaps "accident" is a little harsh. But were it not for the virus getting to Ben Foakes at the last possible moment, Jacks would have been carrying drinks here. In the end, he was handed his cap two minutes after Ben Stokes told him he was in the XI. And the peculiar silver-lining in that scenario is Stokes would have been up against it without Jacks after losing Liam Livingstone's wrist-and-or-finger-allsorts through a jarred right knee picked up in the field.
Coming into 2022, Jacks had bowled just 86 overs in first class cricket for Surrey since a debut in the format back in June 2018, with an additional six for England Lions, and as many wickets in that time as he managed here. He was utilised more in T20 cricket as someone able to fulfill four overs which, along with opening the batting, allows Surrey greater dexterity with their line-up.
It was in the 2020 Blast when he first showcased there was more to him than just someone who could burgle a few overs here and there, with 4 for 15 in semi-final against Kent. At the start of the last summer, Surrey head coach Gareth Batty, as a fellow offie, wanted to push Jacks into assuming a greater role with the ball for their Championship season. He responded with 17 wickets at 47.00. While not spectacular, it felt something of a breakthrough.
Batty noted the parallels with Moeen Ali, another offspinner who had to be coaxed into taking the pursuit seriously, or at least believing they themselves could be taken seriously while doing it. Jacks' stock spin ball was "beautiful" in Batty's eyes, the issue was changing the mindset of a batter who bowled a bit and get him to be more of a bowler invested in a sole purpose. And to watch Jacks here in the Pindi Stadium, toiling away with that upright action, back stiff before the arms spiral like propellers, was to watch someone slowly believe that not only was he an offspinner, but one who could make a difference. He turned far more than he should have done, and noticeably extracted a bit more bounce than his more seasoned spin partner Leach, on account of a taller action and coming over the top of the ball with his release.
"Bowling is getting more and more enjoyable as I'm getting better at it," he said with refreshing honesty, like a uni student warming to cooking. "I'm incredibly keen to - not perfect because you can never do that - but get as good as I can and play for England as an allrounder."
He was proud to announce this was the second time he has "topped" 30 overs. The previous instance came in May when he bowled exactly than many to earn career-best figures of 4 for 65 in the first innings of a Division One match on a turning Beckenham track against Kent, who were bowled out for 230 after the visitors had posted 671. An innings victory fell flat due to the rain, but Jacks still managed to go through now England team-mate Zak Crawley before it came. Batty maintains Jacks was on a roll, primed to win the game on his own.
Jacks will have to go some to do that here, even if the pitch is starting to show something. But he did help set-off the chain of three wickets for 24 inside 7.4 overs of the evening session.
"Pretty happy - it was almost a game-changing moment," Jacks said. "If we go on to win this Test then I guess that could be seen as a big moment in the game to take that wicket of Babar and then Rizwan the very next over and one more in the last hour.
"It finished up being a great day for us, seven wickets in the day is something very very good, so we'll be looking to get those three wickets as quickly as possible in the morning and then giving them a score to chase."
Jacks is by no means the finished article as a bowler, and it is not too cynical to think he might never be. The batting alone is worthy of commendation, especially against the white ball. That the only other person with a century in the Hundred (Will Smeed) has opted for an exclusively limited-overs path is reflective of the times we're in. And though Jacks probably won't take such a severe option, there will be other interests that perhaps take him away from fine-tuning those tweakers.
But there is definitely plenty to work with, from a lovely action, good go-to delivery and a real game sense, which came through when he opted for wider landing spots having noticed there was more turn out there. Crucially, he has thick skin: unperturbed by some of the unique fields being set, particularly as the day wore on, with short leg, silly point, regulation slip and a leg gully.
A lack of cover goes some way to explaining the run rate, which he did manage to drag down to an even 4.0, though there were a few full tosses in there. His 28th over was ransacked by Mohammad Rizwan, four fours a clear effort from the wicketkeeper-batter to get him out of the attack.
It didn't work. Jacks stayed on, kept plugging away and in turn England have broken into a match and a pitch that looked set to keep them out.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo