Will Jacks overtook Jos Buttler this week as the leading run scorer in the inaugural SA20. This could be the moment that he truly shows he belongs at the very highest level of cricket and secures a regular spot in England squads, writes Calum Trenaman.
When Will Jacks left the field having scored a remarkable 62 off 27 balls for Pretoria Capitals in their match against MI Cape Town on Monday, his tally for the competition read 270 runs at an average of 38.57 in his seven matches. More importantly, his strike rate – 201.49 – eclipses all other batters in the competition.
The Surrey player is already making a strong case for being the standout player of this tournament. Under the gaze of England white-ball captain Jos Buttler, who is currently playing in the competition for Paarl Royals, he might have made a significant step towards securing his international future.
Yes, he was dropped on one run, but he made it count, undeterred by the incident. It was not blind slogging but controlled and intelligent aggression, a delight to watch, and seemingly the sort approach that England have become ravenous for since Matthew Mott and Buttler took over in early 2022.
AB de Villiers noted on commentary at one point during Monday’s match that what impressed him about Jacks was that despite many of his expansive shots, there was still “no risk to it.”
He was not up against a second-rate bowling attack either. The bulk of his runs came in the powerplay, predominantly against Kagiso Rabada, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran – a trio that would render most international batters uneasy and force them to adopt caution. Jacks was fearless.
No bowler was safe. Archer and Rabada were lightning quick, but Jacks was unfazed. His response to a rapid riser from Archer? Drive it back over his head for a massive six, deemed the shot of the tournament by those on commentary. By the end of those six overs, he had 55 runs off 21 balls.
His destructive 92 off 46 in Pretoria’s second game of the tournament, with eight sixes and seven fours, was another example much like today where bowlers seemingly had no answer.
He appeared furious with himself when he was out, caught behind after Odean Smith found the edge of his bat. On paper, Smith was the least intimidating bowler in the MI Cape Town attack which also contains Rashid Khan. It was a missed opportunity to become the first ever SA20 centurion, which would’ve followed his achievement last summer of becoming the first ever centurion in The Hundred.
While Buttler and others at the tournament are breaking off to play for England against South Africa in three ODIs commencing this Friday, January 27, Jacks will no doubt continue to plunder runs in the franchise competition. It is becoming increasingly difficult for him to be left out of international squads such as these.
Given the level of white-ball talent on these shores, like others on the fringes of selection he still faces an uphill battle to get into the national team regularly. Despite starring in a number of international tournaments over the past few seasons, he has still only played in two T20Is for England: recording 40 on debut and a 0 against Pakistan last September. In a World Cup year, he will surely be in the minds of selectors for the squad which will travel to India for the competition in October. He is simply too good to be ignored in this kind of form and with this level of talent.
It is not just his batting that makes him such an enticing England prospect. His Test debut on a road in Rawalpindi saw him take 6-161 off 40.3 overs. His batting in those Tests didn’t make waves, but he showed that he bought into the ethos and mentality of the team in how he batted. That should be key to boosting his Test selection chances in an Ashes year.
And he has shown he can do a job with the white ball in his hand directly to the man that matters, dismissing Buttler in the SA20 with a ball that spun sharply through the gate and crashed into the stumps. Earlier in the same over of that match, he had Dane Vilas caught by Jimmy Neesham. Perhaps, were he given more than one over, Pretoria Capitals would have been on the winning side that day.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) January 22, 2023
If Moeen Ali’s ODI form for England continues to be shaky, the selectors could come calling very soon. On top of his batting and bowling, Jacks has proven himself to be a gun fielder in all conditions too. His astounding boundary catch earlier this week against Joburg Super Kings left commentators almost speechless. At first there were John McEnroe-esque calls of “that’s a joke”, “no way” and “you cannot be serious” before their brains caught up with the “simply brilliant” piece of fielding they had just witnessed.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) January 17, 2023
There are plenty of white-ball opportunities for Jacks this year. Apart from the upcoming South Africa ODI series, there will be an ODI and T20I series in Bangladesh, before two ODI series at home against New Zealand and Ireland at the end of the domestic summer. In between all of that, there are Test series in New Zealand and then against Ireland at home before Australia arrive.
What will be key for Jacks this year, though, and could prove the deciding factor in his 2023 World Cup hopes is how he fares in this year’s IPL. As the hosts of the World Cup, it will be essential that he performs in Indian conditions as we know that he can.
And having been snapped up by Royal Challengers Bangalore as one of their marquee international players for 3.2 crores (around £375,000), it is likely that he will be given plenty of chances to prove himself and show his value. If he can do that, he may well be on the plane back to India with England in October.