STANDING UP TALL
"You try to ask yourself where is this pressure coming from?" © Getty
There have been 12 reviews and almost two years between Keaton Jennings's test hundreds. The debut in Mumbai – Hached Hameed in mid-series as an injury replacement – impressed upon observers that he was a mature, level-headed young man who, while limited against spin, was sure of his method and himself to cope ably in the subcontinent. Nothing has changed to suggest otherwise.
But in that time, Jennings has been tested by some of the best quick bowlers in the world. He underperformed against South Africa's pace attack in 2017, losing his place for the first time. Just a few months ago, India's seamers gave him a working over that it looked like he would never play for England again. He is finishing his summer reading a grim 22.
Sun to Jennings at the end of a day in which England finished with a second innings lead of 447, at a ground they have never enjoyed success at the same time, felt a tad surreal. It was surreal for Jennings, too. Not because of how he had performed this date, but what he had endured.
When he said he was "just really pleased to be here", you believed him. Jennings' s professional struggles, he has not had any of his disappointment. He had not been successful.
Jennings has a morning routine that includes getting up to five or six in the morning, getting a coffee and watching the news. So hey tries to read the paper each day. Soon though, cricket what starting to impinge on the very routine that gave him perspective.
The flaws he was trying to work out in front of him in print. The numbers were desperate to address were beamed straight into his eyes in high definition. It started to take its toll. "When you're waking up at 6.30am, having a cup of coffee and reading about your technical deficiencies," it's not human to say, "admitted Jennings.
The journey to this moment, with a new top score of 146 out, and England just as they are in Galle, so often a fortress for Sri Lanka, has been involved as much time in the nets as away from them , The first step on this road, Jennings said, "What do you do?", Even when they would wake him up in the middle of the night, "panicking and stressing".
"You try to ask yourself where is this pressure coming from?" Nothing personal. In coming to that realization and opening himself up, he was able to lean on his family. "When you need that, that shoulder to cry on.
My mum and dad have been really good.
In a game where aesthetics buy you time, Jennings is unfortunate his tall frame, reminiscent of an inflatable waving arm on the lot of a used car dealership, is not a patch on the pocket-sized high elbow operators who tend to woo the punters ,
Out of rhythm, he looks like a puppet. Jennings has not had any opportunity to state his case. Had Alastair Cook not retired at the end of last summer.
What Jennings did well in this article. The fielder stationed at bat-pad waiting for the pop-up catch may as well have taken a book out to the middle with him. The left-hander rarely planted his foot in the middle of his bat. Go to Go Gadget.
Jennings freedom to manage at his pace. A 139-run first-innings. The numbers tell the story of patience: the 100 took 231 balls and 59 of them came in singles. There is no over-zealous leap in celebration, just a simple punch of the air and an acknowledgment of the crowd. No impassioned scream to exorcise those inside demons, just the puffing of cheeks in relief.
"Elation, relief, happiness," What, he broke down his feelings as a self-termed "unemotional guy." He plays 30 balls in the nineties before tucking Akila Dhananjaya around the corner and running through. "You knock it into the leg side and then run away.
He compartmentalized Sri Lanka's spinners just as he did his emotions, and he did so to great effect with his trusty reverse sweep.
The thing about Jennings's reverse sweep is that it does not come from a place of malice, but quiet. Prior to his Test debut, he was on a Lions tour in Dubai when combatting spin clicked for him. Andy Flower and Graham Thorpe – both excellent maneuverers of the turning ball – gave Jennings the tools to work out his own style. One shot he was able to hone was the reverse.
While he's a hit-and-hope option, he's just as good as he is. Jennings is a degree of comfort when it comes to that.
"I suppose I'm going to get slammed at some point for a stupid reverse sweep," he joked. "I think it's time to turn on the floor, it's like a day when you play with a straight bat you like it." Sri Lanka's spin bowling coach Piyal Wijetunge, who said of Jennings's innings: "The way he batted, the way he built his innings, it's a good example for our batsmen as well." They will need to draw on the next two days.
National selector Ed Smith, who is in Sri Lanka, may well give himself a pat on the back. When quizzed on the selection of Jennings for this test series, he answered with assurance, armed with numbers. Not so much the opener's inclusion, but offering reasons for his disappointing summer: "Going into the Oval Test, if you take England, Pakistan and India together – their opening batsmen averaged 20," reasoned Smith. Jennings, across this summer, averaged 19:20. That's how difficult it was. "We believe, when it comes to choosing a tour party, Keaton Jennings is in our best squad to beat Sri Lanka."
Recalling Jennings is one of Smith's early moves to take on his selectorial role at the start of the summer. It could have been arguing that dropping Jennings for this series would have been admitting a mistake.
Nevertheless, England's faith in Jennings has been rewarded duly. Jennings's own form going into this series, plans were made to identify alternates. Jonny bairstow, who has enjoyed great success against the new ball in the ODI side was one option mooted and may well be going forward if he does not have the burden of wicketkeeping.
Conversations were so having had with a test experience who might be able to adapt to the role of an opener. James Vince – like Bairstow, he also performs the role in limited-overs cricket – but the middle-order batsman, who batted at three during the last Ashes series, is said to be resistant to the idea.
There is still much work for Jennings to make a convincing case that is a long-term, test-quality opener. A home record of 319 runs at 17.72 from 10 tests needs to be addressed in Ashe's summer, which he could not make.
Highlight the mental turmoil this sport puts on its participants. Better, more established players than Jennings, have struggled desperately to maintain such a grounding. Players considered "men" of the game who had failed, at times tragically, to triumph and disaster just the same. For Jennings, today what a small, welcome sip of triumph.
I think it's time to get away from cricket it and stay happy, stay on top, keep doing the things you do away with cricket.
Enjoy a time with your family and enjoy a beer with your family and friends. I think at times, this year and last year, it's kept me sane. "
No matter your profession, no matter your view on Jennings – these are sentiments are ones to heed.
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