As Will Jacks looks out upon his Surrey team-mates training at the Kia Oval and ponders how this ridiculously talented group have never won the Vitality Blast, he probably does not mean to bastardise Michael Jordan.
“It’s knockout cricket,” the all-rounder says, reflecting on last season’s one-run defeat to Yorkshire in the quarter-finals. “Even if you finish top of the group stage, like we did, you make a few mistakes and you lose in the knockout.
“We took that one quite hard — and I took that one hard, personally.”
Ahead of Thursday’s London derby opener against Middlesex at Lord’s, Surrey have, as Jacks puts it, “unfinished business” with a competition they last won in its inaugural season in 2003, but there is particular reason to believe this might be the year in which they finally polish it off.
In that loss to Yorkshire, Jacks captained a side missing Chris Jordan, Jason Roy, Sam Curran and Reece Topley because of England white-ball call-ups, a regular source of disruption for a county that has been a victim of its own strength on that front. This time around, though, with the Ashes dominating the first half of the international summer, Surrey ought to, for once, be at near full-strength throughout and know they must capitalise.
“We haven’t specifically said that, because you never want to put that pressure on yourself, but I think we all feel that,” Jacks says. “I know I’m thinking it inside.”
That Jacks is ready to roll from the outset is a bonus, the 24-year-old’s recovery from the hip problem that ruled him out of the IPL having gone smoothly. He has, by his own admission, not “set the world on fire” yet in averaging 21.5 across four County Championship innings this term, but believes he can mirror last year’s progression, when some explosive knocks in the Blast “kickstarted my summer”, leading eventually to England debuts in all three formats this winter.
“I’ve always found it easier [to find form] in white-ball cricket,” he says. “I’m better when I’m looking to score runs, and sometimes in red-ball I have a tendency to get a bit too negative. Time in the middle, I have a 50-50 relationship with. In T20 cricket, time in the middle is a myth. Some of my best knocks have lasted 25 balls, I’ve batted for half-an-hour. But if you do bat for two or three hours in a County Championship game, then obviously you feel pretty good.”
Missing out on a first IPL appearance, “something I’ve always dreamed of”, was a major blow to Jacks, who had been bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore for around £320,000 at auction, but did at least allow him time to recharge after a manic winter, having blamed the relentless schedule for his injury.
You can’t hide from the fact that there is competition with Jason Roy... but we have a great relationship
The likes of Curran and Roy only returned from India this week, but both are set to play on Thursday, the latter ready to reform a destructive opening partnership with Jacks that at times last summer looked awfully lop-sided, Roy enduring an abysmal run of form that led to his axing from England’s T20 World Cup-winning side.
After making a redemptive ODI ton in South Africa earlier this year, Roy admitted to having mixed feelings at watching Jacks’s success amid his own struggles, the pair long-time team-mates but also rivals for an England shirt.
“You can’t hide from the fact that there is competition there,” Jacks says. “As I’ve grown up and I’ve opened with him, he’s always helped me and been brilliant in progressing my journey.
“I feel like I’m now at that stage where I’ve also got the ability to play international cricket and, in a weird way, we are almost competing for that. But it’s never created any awkwardness between us, we have a great relationship. We’ve probably opened together 50 times, know each other really well and we can tell on the day really quickly who fancies it and who doesn’t.”
If either do on Thursday night, Surrey’s latest quest to end their drought ought to get off to a flier.