Will Jacks continues his fine progress as a bowler

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 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.

Until eight months ago he had accounted for just four first-class victims as a parttime twirler with Surrey and had not claimed more than one 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

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 he continues to make the most of opportunities that come his way. He would have bowled less here but for Liam Livingstone aggravating a knee injury. However, by the close, he had sent down a quarter of the overs in Pakistan’s 499 for seven and boasted figures of 33-5-132-3.

He has secured the best figures by an England spinner on Test debut in seven years

But for county colleague Ben Foakes’ sickness, Jacks would not even have been playing and he is only back in Pakistan after Moeen Ali reneged on his declaration to make himself available for the tour. Like Moeen, he also possesses a golden arm. 

Three times, 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.’

Spinner Jacks described the wicket of Pakistan captain Babar Azam as ‘almost a game-changing moment’

Moeen, another converted spinner, played mentor during the seven-match Twenty20 series 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 Championshipwinning 2022 season, he was selected to provide the team’s diet of spin in seamdominated April and May and was then preferred to specialists Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty when the ball began to turn in midsummer.

The 24-year-old would not even be playing if wicketkeeper Ben Foakes had not been ill

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 against 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.

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 batting-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 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 Jacks, from going against the grain.

Former England red ball spinner Moeen Ali played mentor to Jacks in Pakistan in the autumn

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

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