At the heart of England’s push for victory in Rawalpindi is a bowler who started this year with just four first-class wickets and did not know he was making his Test debut until a couple of minutes before a cap was thrust into his hand on Thursday.
Will Jacks played a key role on day four, serving notice of his potential with the ball – finishing with a six wicket haul on a bowler’s graveyard – before blasting three sixes as England hit fifth gear just before their daring declaration. He has settled quickly at Test level.
It has been a Test debut that not even Jacks’ nearest and dearest could have dreamt of at the start of the 2022 summer. At that stage, he was the most occasional part-time off-spin; he bowled in just three of his first 23 County Championship matches for Surrey, and those four wickets all came in different innings.
Then, Jacks was not a bowler and was threatening to not be a red-ball cricketer at all, with his short-form hitting increasingly in demand.
One of Gareth Batty’s first decisions as Surrey’s interim head coach would have a significant bearing on Jacks’ career. Batty knows a bit about off-spin and, having variously been his team-mate and captain, knows a bit about Jacks, a famously fast learner, too.
Batty decided that, rather than trust young spinners in Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty, Jacks would be his side-balancing spin-bowling all-rounder. Batty saw a bit of a young Moeen Ali, with whom he had played at Worcestershire, in Jacks. He had not bowled much, but had a natural, strong, traditional action, and the ability to find spin, drift and dip from decent height. What he needed was overs.
It proved a smart decision. Jacks was limited to just 11 matches by England call-ups, and his bowling figures were modest– 17 wickets at 47 – but he played an important role in Surrey’s Championship title. Across 264 overs, he bowled with control, and occasionally threatened too. His batting kicked on, too, with an average of 54.
Those performances, along with an assured look on the T20 leg of this tour in September, earned Jacks a place in the Test squad. If England had been looking for a pure second spinner, it would not have been him. But, with their desire to bat big on flat pitches, they were looking for a “package”. Jacks and Liam Livingstone provided that.
In a strange quirk, Livingstone got the nod to play the first Test, but both ended up playing, and only Jacks has ended up bowling. Ben Foakes’ illness brought Jacks into the team, then Livingstone injured his knee in the field.
The benign conditions meant that in the first innings Jacks got through 40.3 overs, more than he has in any first-class match, let alone innings. His toil was rewarded with figures of six for 141. He is the first England spinner to take a five-wicket haul on debut since Adil Rashid in 2005, and the first to take six since Peter Such in 1993.
Jacks was unafraid to vary his pace and line, which contributed to the three chancy wickets he picked up on Saturday, including the scalp of Babar Azam. Wickets four to six were better looking and saw Jacks wrap up the tail, just when England needed him to, with two catches well taken at slip and a sharp stumping from Ollie Pope.
This was a performance that distilled Jacks’ bowling: he is unpolished, but full of potential and attacking endeavour. Even with so little help from the surface, he found some turn thanks to his dip – more than England’s other spinners. It is to his credit that he did not tire, despite the workload, and got better as the innings went on; he is, after all, learning on the job.
Stokes’ declaration dramatically reduced the chances of a draw. If England are to force victory, each of the fit bowlers will need to play his part, including their work in progress Jacks. But in the 24-year-old, England have a more potent weapon than they – and perhaps even he – realised when he was hurriedly handed his cap.