Will Jacks continues his fine progress as a bowler as he becomes the first England spinner to take three wickets on debut in seven years with Ben Stokes’ side pursuing unlikely victory on a tough surface against Pakistan
- Will Jacks secured best figures for an England spinner on debut in seven years
- He took three wickets as England toilet on a tough pitch against Pakistan
- He described his dismissal of Babar Azam as ‘almost a game-changing moment’
- England are still pushing for victory but a draw looks likely in the first Test
When England’s think-tank first turned their plotting minds to how to take 20 Test wickets on Pakistani soil this winter, it is fair to estimate little breath would have been wasted on the name of Will Jacks.
After all, until eight months ago he’d accounted for just four first-class victims as a part-time twirler with Surrey and had not claimed more than a solitary scalp in an innings.
Yet here he finds himself as a major player in a rare push for the spoils abroad, as an England team winless in 11 away stick to their captain Ben Stokes’ pre-series pledge to take draws out of the equation.
Will Jacks has impressed with the ball for England in what has been a difficult pitch to bowl on
He has secured the best figures by an England spinner on Test debut in seven years
On Saturday, he scooped the best figures by an England spinner on Test debut since Adil Rashid’s five-wicket haul against the same opponents in the Emirates seven years ago, and if Pakistan are to be dismissed twice, there will be plenty of graft ahead on a notoriously benign Rawalpindi pitch.
In truth, Jacks, 24, is very much a work in progress and a third spinner rather than a second at international level but in line with his career story to date continues to make the most of opportunities that come his way. While others lay claim to be victims of circumstance, Jacks is a champion of them.
He would have bowled less here but for Liam Livingstone’s aggravation of a knee injury. However, by the close, he’d sent down a quarter of the overs in Pakistan’s 499 for seven and boasted figures of 33-5-132-3.
Spinner Jacks described the wicket of Pakistan captain Babar Azam as ‘almost a game-changing moment’
The 24-year-old would not even be playing if wicketkeeper Ben Foakes had not been ill
But for county colleague Ben Foakes’ sickness, Jacks would not even have been playing and he’s only back in Pakistan after Moeen Ali reneged on a previous declaration to make himself available for the three-match tour.
Like Moeen, he also possesses something of a golden arm. Three times on Saturday, he struck in the first over of a spell: extra bounce on short, wide deliveries did for centurions Abdullah Shafique and Babar Azam while Naseem Shah was lured into a glory shot.
Of his Babar coup, when Pakistan were 473 for four, Jacks said: ‘It was almost a game-changing moment. If we go on to win this Test, then I guess that could be seen as a big moment in the game. It finished up being a great day for us.’
Moeen, another converted spinner, played mentor during the seven-match Twenty20 series in Pakistan in the autumn.
Former England red ball spinner Moeen Ali played mentor to Jacks in Pakistan in the autumn
However, Jacks’ extraordinary progress over the past 12 months is credited by those at the Oval to another off-spin expert in Gareth Batty, Surrey’s head coach.
At the start of Surrey’s County Championship-winning 2022 season, he was selected to provide the team’s diet of spin in seam-dominated April and May, and was then preferred to specialists Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty when the ball began to turn in midsummer.
In August, he was chosen for England Lions’s four-day fixture against South Africa, having impressed with a return of 30-8-65-4 versus Kent at Beckenham.
One of the major breakthroughs made by Batty has been to get a player who entered this match with 21 first-class wickets at 53 and a rate of striking every 17th over thinking like a bowler.
Primarily a gun batter, Jacks has improved his spin game significantly in the last few months
A draw is looking likely on a flat pitch but Jacks and captain Ben Stokes will be eyeing victory
So far, he has shown himself to be a serviceable foil to the slow left-armer Jack Leach but it will require plenty more besides to help conjure up what would be only a third England victory in Pakistan, not least patience, at a notoriously batter-friendly venue.
Indeed, if history is made, it looks likelier to be of the run-making variety. The most hundreds in a Test match is eight, a number achieved by the combined efforts of West Indies and South Africa in Antigua in 2005 and more recently by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Galle nine years ago. Babar Azam made it seven before tea on day three yesterday.
But it will not deter Stokes – nor the intrepid Jacks – from going against the grain.