Will Jacks interview: Positive T20 mindset has changed my game... before I just tried to survive

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New mindset: Will Jacks is benefiting from adopting a positive T20 approach across all formats of the game  (Getty Images for Surrey CCC)
New mindset: Will Jacks is benefiting from adopting a positive T20 approach across all formats of the game (Getty Images for Surrey CCC)

Will Jacks is just 23. But even before this season, he was a County Championship winner, had been in an England 50-over squad, hit six sixes in a pre-season over, and played franchise cricket around the world.

But this summer, Jacks has announced himself as a cross-format international prospect with his performances for Surrey. From this week, with Oval Invincibles in The Hundred, he has an opportunity to show off his short-form prowess in front of a wider audience.

Heading into this season, Jacks could easily have been put in the bracket of young English player whose short-form games was showing much greater promise than with the red ball. He made three fifties in each of the past two Blast campaigns, and had an outstanding Bangladesh Premier League season this winter. His offspin had graduated from “handy” to being a genuine sixth bowler, too.

But he was underwhelmed by his red-ball record. Having debuted as a teenager in the 2018 County Championship win, he had never nailed down a spot. After 30 matches, his average was 29. “Especially at Surrey that is not going to cut it. I knew I had to improve,” says Jacks.

Gareth Batty, Surrey’s interim head coach, decided to trust Jacks’ spin ahead of Amar Virdi or Dan Moriarty, and give him a role he compared to Moeen Ali’s with England: batting in the lower middle order and bowling offies.

“They were giving me this opportunity to be the spinner and bat, and I had to take it, otherwise who knows where my red ball career would be going,” he says.

It did not immediately click. Early in the season, Jacks was shunted around the order as the team needed, as high as four, as low as nine (when a nightwatch had been used). When the season broke for the T20 Blast, Jacks had just one half-century in six matches.

When the Blast, in which he scored 449 runs, took a break for a Championship game against Somerset, Jacks had a rethink.

“I found some form in the T20s and we went to Taunton,” he says. “I told myself in the nets to really keep that positive mindset from T20. Really focusing on hitting the ball instead of surviving.

“The game is about scoring runs, but before I’ve just tried to survive, because people say it gets easier after your first 25 balls. However it works better for me if I tell myself I can still score, there’s runs here, here, and here. If the ball’s there I can still hit it for four. That game I scored 80 and 60, went from there. It worked.

Jacks says he was previously too focused on just trying to survive at the crease (Getty Images for Surrey CCC)
Jacks says he was previously too focused on just trying to survive at the crease (Getty Images for Surrey CCC)

“Being positive is not just whacking every ball. It’s, if the ball is there to defend, you get in a great position then whack it into the floor. I used to stand dead still and wait for the ball but because I was so still, if it nipped I wouldn’t be able to react and adjust. Now I am more ready to go and can adjust quicker.”

That would be music to the ears of Brendon McCullum, England’s head coach. So would Jacks’ scores since his change of mindset: 499 runs, including two unbeaten centuries, at an average of almost 100.

That irksome overall career average is up to 35, Surrey are top of the table, and Jacks has played some extremely eye-catching innings. Against Essex, batting with the tail against Simon Harmer, he moved from 100 to 150 in 16 balls. Last week, he walked out with Surrey needing 15 to beat Warwickshire, and hit three of his first six balls for six. “No one wants to hang around in that situation,” he says. “So I just thought ‘f*** it’, really”.

Jacks believes England’s Test approach is rubbing off on county cricket. He cites the example of Ollie Pope, who made 52 from 54 in the chase against Warwickshire. “That’s him coming back from that environment with so much confidence, which wears off on us,” he says. “I think it is filtering through.”

What of his bowling? It is important not to get carried away with just 17 wickets this season, but there is promise there.

The game is about scoring runs, but before I’ve just tried to survive.

“I’ve been getting better,” says Jacks. “At the beginning of the season I was a newbie. I’ve been learning on my feet. I had some bad days and was down on myself, but other really rewarding days. I took two wickets last week and it was rewarding. Especially the second one [Alex Davies, stumped] was a build-up, a good passage of play and I earned the wicket.”

Jacks has enjoyed being given leadership responsibility by Surrey this year (he captained the Blast team when Chris Jordan was with England), and his general job security has seen his thinking about his own game shift.

“I was talking to Ryan Patel [the Surrey opener who is also enjoying a fine year],” he says. “We worked out neither of us had ever played five Championship games [in a row] before this season. We’ve both played all 11. You feel more settled, can relax into it. You think, I am a red-ball player now.”

That much was obvious when Jacks chose to play in the Championship for Surrey rather than England Lions in 50-over matches last month. He does not hide his England ambitions, though.

“I am playing well, scoring runs, which is what I need to do,” he says. “I have to be relentless, keep it going for as long as possible. England’s white-ball team been the best in the world, and is hard to break into. If that happens I will be over the moon. But I’ve got to keep working hard to get there.

“I’ve only had only good [red ball] season, and I haven’t finished it yet. It does put in your mind that if I do this for the next three years, can I be in an England squad in a few years time?”

For now, though, his focus is white ball, with the Invincibles. Continue his form, and a place on a winter white-ball tour is in sight.

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