How Jewell learnt to bat again and entered Australia debate

The left hander is not keen to talk about higher honours, but he is impressing the right people after a tough start to first-class cricket

Alex Malcolm
Caleb Jewell has impressed for Australia over the last six months  •  Getty Images

Caleb Jewell has impressed for Australia over the last six months  •  Getty Images

The search for the next set of Australian Test openers is on in earnest. David Warner's looming retirement and Usman Khawaja's age have accelerated the public conversation.
The names of Marcus Harris, Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft dominate the debate. But there is a diamond in the rough emerging who could well be the gem that Australia's selectors are hoping for.
Caleb Jewell is starting to make his name in Australian cricket. In three first-class matches for Australia A this year he has posted scores of 66, 78 and an impressive 131 in a losing cause in September under lights against New Zealand A.
Jewell is a man who is economical with his words, in stark contrast to his dazzling ball-striking, and is keen to avoid any talk or even thoughts of playing international cricket for now. But he is quick to note that his game has not suddenly elevated to a new level overnight.
"I wouldn't say it's gone up a level," Jewell told ESPNcricinfo. "I think it's probably just more recognisable when you're playing in those [A] games. I feel like I've done our alright for Tasmania the last couple of years, but it sort of gets lost in the games going on everywhere. So when we all come together and play like that it probably gets recognised a little bit more than what it would in the Shield."
He is right. Jewell has been quietly building an impressive resume over the last three seasons for Tasmania. The 26-year-old has made four Sheffield Shield centuries and six half-centuries in his last 41 innings since returning to Tasmania's side in February 2021 following a near two-year exile.
His average of 39.11 in that time does not jump off the page, but for an opener who plays half his games at Bellerive Oval and two others per year at the WACA and the Gabba, that number carries a lot more weight.
The quality of his centuries is also worth noting. Three have come against the eventual Shield champions in each season - Queensland in 2020-21, and Western Australia twice in 2022 and 2023. One of those was against an attack featuring Jhye Richardson and Cameron Green in Hobart. Richardson took seven wickets in the match less than a month before his maiden Test-match five-for against England while Green also had a profitable Ashes with the ball that summer. Jewell made 102 and 60 as Tasmania chased down 315 to win in the fourth innings.
My batting was a bit nowhere. I didn't know what I was. I was a bit at the crossroads to be honest. I pretty much just listened to him for two to three years. He pretty much taught me how to bat again
Caleb Jewell on the role of Jeff Vaughan
He is making a habit of playing well in the fourth innings. On top of his fourth innings 131 for Australia A, he also made an unbeaten 108 last summer in a successful run chase against South Australia at Adelaide Oval.
His innings for Australia A showcased his talent. He counterattacked relentlessly with his team under enormous pressure. He was savage on any width offered and unfurled some fearless pull shots. There were comparisons coming from within the Australia A camp to Travis Head in terms of the quality of the ball-striking and his ability to put pressure back on the bowlers.
And while Jewell is very wary of putting his own name up in lights, his Tasmania coach and batting mentor Jeff Vaughan is more than happy to state how good he could be.
"He could play for Australia in all formats of the game, I'm certain of that," Vaughan told ESPNcricinfo. "I think he's a wonderfully skilled player. He's incredibly well disciplined. He's a great trainer. He's a good human being. He's a smart cricketer. He's brave and has a great skill set."
Part of Jewell's reticence to look too far ahead comes from his journey to this point. He was a prodigious talent at junior level, representing his country at Under-19 level alongside Richardson and Will Pucovski. He scored Youth Test and ODI hundreds against England's Under-19s in 2015.
That was enough for him to be selected for his first-class debut in March 2016, just prior to his 19th birthday. Jewell, by his own admission, wasn't ready to make that jump, and what followed could have ended his career. He would play just seven Shield games over his first five seasons, scoring one half-century and averaging 11.58.
"It was a pretty difficult time to be honest," Jewell said. "I was sort of just thrown into first-class cricket. I was nowhere near ready to play first-class cricket. I hadn't even made a century in club cricket at that time."
That period coincided with Vaughan's arrival as Tasmania's batting coach in the winter of 2017. Vaughan came from South Australia where he had been an integral part of Head's development to becoming a world-class batter in all forms. He would have an immediate impact on Jewell.
"My batting was a bit nowhere," Jewell said. "I didn't know what I was. I was a bit at the crossroads to be honest. I pretty much just listened to him for two to three years. He pretty much taught me how to bat again.
"We got drilled pretty hard in how to be disciplined batters. I don't think the Tasmania batting group back then had a whole heap of discipline.
"It's been the foundation for me. I think I'm known as quite an aggressive player but we did a lot of work on defensive stuff, playing short balls under pressure, and all those sort of things."
While Jewell takes a negative view of his initial foray into first-class cricket, Vaughan thinks it might have been the best thing for him.
"Sometimes it's hard because as a kid you question your ability and question whether you're up to it," he said. "But sometimes that exposure is the best learning outcome for young players and particularly young batters. You actually get a chance to go away and work on it.
"At the time, maybe he didn't see that as a really good opportunity for him to play and be exposed to first-class cricket, go away, reflect, rebuild, and come back a better player. I think that was a huge thing for him."
Jewell also spent time working with former Queensland batter Wade Townsend, who was his club coach at North Hobart at the time before becoming a Tasmania assistant coach and subsequently moving back to Queensland. What followed was an extraordinary transformation.
Jewell went from playing Shield cricket without a grade century to his name after 69 club innings for North Hobart, to scoring 11 centuries for his club side in four years, including five in a season in 2020-21.
"He needed to face more balls to have success," Vaughan said. "Physically he had to be able to negate [difficult batting] conditions and survive them first and then be able to thrive. But emotionally he had to be able to understand exactly what it takes, absorb at different times, and learn how to put pressure back on the opposition."
After 15 months without playing a Shield game between November 2019 and February 2021, Jewell made his first Shield century in his first game on return and hasn't looked back.
"I think in those years where I wasn't scoring runs in club cricket I'd get 30 or 40 and think 'how good am I going here' and then suddenly I'm back in the sheds," Jewell said. "Whereas I really had to make sure that I just found a way to get to 60 or 70 and then after that, your talent takes over. I probably hold that in Shield cricket now as well."
While his name is beginning to be mentioned as a future Test prospect, such is the fickle nature of being a first-class opener, Jewell isn't looking further ahead than his next game for Tasmania.
"I've failed a lot in my career," Jewell said. "That's probably what's holding me in good stead now. At the time it was difficult but you've got to go through some bad times to come out the other side.
"My goal hasn't changed. Every year I just want to play every game for Tassie because it means that I'm doing something right or I'm not far away from a score or I'm just hanging in. I'm never going to be someone to think any higher than that because I've been in and out of the team so much, I don't want to be in that spot again.
"I always look at the centuries board at Bellerive [Oval] and see who I can pick off next. Because that first hundred for me seemed so far away. I just want to get as many as those as I can for Tassie and then what will be will be after that."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo