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Feature

Will Jacks' ODI debut dash highlights England calendar crunch

Allrounder completes set of international caps with first List A appearance in four years

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
02-Mar-2023
Will Jacks celebrates his maiden ODI wicket with Jason Roy  •  Associated Press

Will Jacks celebrates his maiden ODI wicket with Jason Roy  •  Associated Press

Twenty-six hours and fifty-two minutes. That is the length of time between Jimmy Anderson strangling Neil Wagner down the leg side to give New Zealand a one-run win in the second Test at the Basin Reserve, and Chris Woakes beating Tamim Iqbal on the outside edge some 7000 miles away in the first ODI at the Shere Bangla Stadium in Dhaka.
International teams playing on consecutive days has become all too common in the post-Covid era: last year, I was among the handful of people present as England won their third ODI against the Netherlands in Amstelveen on the evening of June 22, and then again for the first day of their Headingley Test against New Zealand on the morning of June 23. This time, it was physically impossible to be at both the denouement of the Wellington Test and the start of the Mirpur ODI - at least, while using commercial airlines.
History will show that one player managed the improbable feat of being in England's squads for both games. Will Jacks made the journey to Bangladesh on Saturday after he was left out of England's team for the second Test; he was officially added as cover for the injured Tom Abell, but the ECB had discussed the possibility of him joining the ODI squad even before Abell strained his side in Sri Lanka.
On Wednesday, Jacks was presented with his ODI cap by his Surrey team-mate Jason Roy, completing his full set five-and-a-half months - but only four games - after making his England debut in a T20I in Karachi. In that time, Jacks has started to resemble the personification of English cricket's scheduling crisis.
In September, he played two T20Is in Pakistan while Liam Livingstone was injured and Ben Stokes was being rested, on a tour which represented preparation for a T20 World Cup he would play no part in. In December, he played two Tests in Pakistan, in part because Moeen Ali had retired from the format due to England's schedule.
A month later, he thrived at the SA20 - then missed the final stages in order to travel to New Zealand with England's Test squad. Now, he is in Bangladesh, again in part due to Livingstone's injury-enforced absence - and pulled out of a planned three-match stint in the PSL to make himself available. "I've had six days at home since the start of November," he told reporters in Bangladesh, also revealing that his luggage had arrived 48 hours after him.
It is a bizarre itinerary, but hardly an unusual one among England's players. More than 60 have been involved in overseas short-form leagues over the winter, and keeping track of England's squads now requires close attention: they have played six matches across formats in 2023, and used 26 different players.
Jacks made a solid impression on ODI debut. He bowled some hard-spun offbreaks in his role as England's third spinner, conceding a solitary boundary and picking up a fortuitous wicket: Afif Hossain miscued him to mid-on while hacking across the line. Figures of 1 for 18 in five overs made him England's most economical bowler.
Batting at No. 6 in the chase, he was frenetic early in his innings: he managed 10 off his first 23 balls, including an edged four, a caught-and-bowled chance off Mustafizur Rahman, and a couple of ugly swipes as he struggled to find his rhythm. He picked up three boundaries in his next five balls, including a lofted six over cover, then picked out deep midwicket off Mehidy Hasan to fall for 26 off 31.
The tempo of 50-over batting did not come naturally for him - and why should it have? This was Jacks' first List A game in four years, a scenario that would have seemed unthinkable for an England ODI debutant in any previous era yet has now become a fact of life, such are the idiosyncrasies of the schedule.
Ever since England's World Cup win in 2019, their domestic 50-over competition has clashed with the Hundred. As a result, a generation of talented young white-ball players have had almost no exposure to one-day cricket since Under-19 level: in Sri Lanka last month, Tom Hartley (10 first-class appearances, 59 T20s) and Tom Lammonby (33 first-class appearances, 62 T20s) both made their List A debuts while playing for England Lions.
Players like Jacks have been caught in the crosshairs: after this tour to Bangladesh, he will try to push his case for World Cup selection during two months with Royal Challengers Bangalore at the IPL, then with Surrey and Oval Invincibles during the English summer. Like most of his team-mates, he will not play a 50-over game between the third ODI and England's selection meeting for the main event.
Clearly, the situation is far from ideal. England would not, ideally, be giving Jacks his debut seven months out from their title defence, even if his most likely role in their squad would be as a multi-talented back-up player who could be used as an opener or in the middle order.
Ideally, he would be playing more 50-over cricket, too. Andrew Strauss' high-performance review last year proposed moving the One-Day Cup from August to April. "For England to be winning 50-over World Cups, it needs to provide its highest-potential players opportunities to play the format. This is not possible in today's schedule," the review said. But the proposals were rejected by the counties, and the status quo will prevail.
And yet, Jacks' cameo represented a valuable contribution to a scrappy England win, giving them two opportunities to inflict Bangladesh's first home ODI series defeat since England's most recent tour in 2016. England's ODI results have been poor in the last 12 months, but as Moeen Ali said before this series: "We have lost 8 in the last 10 - but we are also the champions of the world."
Even while fielding a half-strength team for most of this cycle, England are second in the ICC's Super League and are second-favourites for the World Cup behind the hosts, India. It would be a major surprise if they failed to reach the semi-finals.
Jacks' ODI debut is emblematic of the format's diminished status within English cricket since that day at Lord's four years ago. Yet he possesses the qualities - adaptability, versatility and, above all talent - which underpin England's confidence that, come October, everything will fall into place once again.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98