A sodden Headingley outfield delayed its arrival by three days, but England’s latest white-ball opening partnership will stride out to the middle together at Trent Bridge on Saturday with an opportunity to show that they are not just a stop-gap, but a viable long-term option at the top of the order.
Salt and Jacks have batted together before, though only six times and all in T20s, rather than 50-over games. They opened together in one of England’s seven T20Is in Pakistan this time last year, and were also opening partners for Pretoria Capitals in the SA20 in January. That they were due to open, with Zak Crawley in the middle order, confirms their status as the next men in.
In style, they are similar to the Jason Roy-Alex Hales prototype, the opening pair that launched England’s white-ball revolution. Jacks, like Hales, is the taller of the two, and particularly strong through the covers; Salt, like Roy, is slightly shorter, but a powerful, leg-side dominant player. Unlike Roy and Hales, they both offer secondary skills: Jacks bowls useful offbreaks, while Salt can keep wicket.
After England’s humiliating group-stage exit at the 2015 World Cup and ahead of their next full series against New Zealand, Roy and Hales were given an extended run at the top of the order, given licence to fail as long as they played in the team’s new attacking style. Salt and Jacks could be in a similar position – even if England’s white-ball teams are now in a very different place.
There is healthy competition between Salt and Jacks. Salt turned 27 last month, Jacks’ 25th birthday is in November, while Salt has 30 international caps and a T20 World Cup winners’ medal to Jacks’ 10. But Jacks was picked ahead of Salt to open the batting in last month’s T20I series against New Zealand, with England keen to give him a run of games.
“I was disappointed, I can’t lie to you,” Salt said. “I had a good IPL, but I didn’t do myself justice when I came back for the Blast. Playing for England is where I want to be… if anything, it’s given me motivation to get back in the team and reclaim my place.” He sought feedback from Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler, who explained there had been “a little shift around in the pecking order.”
With Hales now retired from international cricket and Roy’s World Cup omission likely to draw a line under his England career, there will soon be spots up for grabs. “I’d like to think so, yeah,” Salt said when asked if he saw himself taking one of them. “There’s a lot of guys in my position also thinking the same thing.”
Of course, there is no guarantee that there will be dual vacancies at the top of the order. Buttler recently cautioned against what he sees as an English obsession with age, saying: “We are always looking for the next thing… If people are still performing, age is irrelevant.” After all, England will likely head into next year’s T20 World Cup with Buttler and Jonny Bairstow as their openers.
But in ODIs, England will start building towards the 2027 World Cup – and the 2025 Champions Trophy – when they travel to the Caribbean in December. Their fringe players have lined up that tour for further potential opportunities and will make themselves available even if it means limiting their time for franchise cricket; both Salt and Jacks are in demand worldwide, and are likely to be retained for next year’s IPL.
“Playing for England is a priority,” Salt said. “There’s a lot of franchise opportunities out there, but every game I can get in an England shirt, I want to take the opportunity with both hands. Some people are at the stage of their career where they are prioritising earning money… [but] right now, I just want to play as many games as I can for England.”
After those three fixtures against West Indies, which are followed by five T20Is, England will not play another ODI until September 2024, when they host Australia at the end of the summer. With the country’s leading white-ball cricketers involved in the Hundred rather than the One-Day Cup, the ongoing Ireland series provides rare exposure to 50-over cricket.
“It is slightly strange: you’ve got to remember the rules,” Jacks joked on Wednesday. “I’ve barely played [50-over cricket]: I’ve played two games in the last five years.” Salt believes that most players are able to adapt: “The fundamentals and the basics are very, very similar. It’s just spread out over a bigger period of time.”
More immediately, they will just hope to get on the pitch: mercifully, Saturday’s forecast for Nottingham suggests they should at least manage that.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98