Keaton Jennings is about as English as Biltong. Yet given the fact that some parochial Englishmen have labelled Matt Renshaw about as Australian as Yorkshire pudding, it probably doesn’t matter.
What is of more concern is that England have picked someone for the last two Tests of this tour of India who averages 35.89 in first-class cricket. Moreover in 342 games of cricket he has played from Under-13 level he has scored just 24 hundreds.
Jennings, who was born in Johannesburg and captained South Africa at Under-19 level, is coming off a superb season for Durham that saw him score 1548 County Championship runs, including seven centuries, at an average of 64.50.
Yet his overall record – as well as admitting he was the beneficiary of the luckiest season any man could have – raises alarm bells.
In fairness the competition for the place vacated by Haseeb Hameed, whose broken finger has seen the teenager return home, was not the strongest.
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None of Daniel Bell-Drummond, Tom Westley and Nick Gubbins had done enough to state their case convincingly. Both Bell-Drummond and Westley averaged above 50 in the last northern summer – but in Division Two of the County Championship.
Their career averages – Bell-Drummond (37.12) and Westley (36) – hardly set the world alight either, though they still average higher than Jennings.
Both are also highly-rated and have shown their class in high-pressure situations – namely scoring hundreds in tour matches against Australia during the 2015 Ashes tour.
You get a buzz about players on the cricket grapevine and both Westley and Bell-Drummond, whose style at the crease excites those who watch them, get people talking.
Gubbins, too, can feel unlucky. The Middlesex opener averaged 61.26 last season, playing a huge part in his county’s first Championship win in 23 years, and his career average of 40.67 is better than all the other contenders.
Yet a widespread concern he is weak against spin bowling cost him on this occasion.
So England are stuck with Jennings, who is almost certain to become captain Alastair Cook’s 11th opening partner in four years when the fourth Test in Mumbai starts on Thursday week.
On his summer just gone, Jennings admits he got lucky, telling the UK’s All Out Cricket Magazine recently: “It’s been one of those seasons where certain things have worked out. I’ve nicked balls and they’ve gone in areas where fielders haven’t been and it’s been very special from that point of view. It’s just been awesome.”
International cricket may not be as forgiving, yet Jennings is a man who is not consumed by the game.
The 24-year-old, whose father Ray coached South Africa and whose mother was born in Sunderland, has been doing an accountancy degree in the off-season for the past few years.
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Jennings had to postpone exams to play for England Lions in the UAE, for whom he will captain in two games before flying to Mumbai to join up with the senior squad on Monday.
Bizarrely his role model is not Graeme Smith or Alastair Cook but David Leatherdale, the former Worcestershire journeyman who worked as an accountant and is now president of the Professional Cricketers’ Association in the UK.
“It wouldn’t be my ideal job to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers for 40 years but the managerial side of things – making decisions on numbers and books – has really interested me,” said Jennings. “Hopefully I can finish my degree next year – and then hopefully I won’t need it! – but maybe one day I can follow in the footsteps of someone like David Leatherdale.
“He became CEO at Worcestershire and is now the chief executive at the PCA. His career path is something of interest to me.”
Maybe his attitude that cricket is not the be-all and end-all will help Jennings as he looks to make his way in international cricket.
However, news of his call-up was emotional for his family.
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“It was a lot to take in, and very exciting,” said Jennings. “And then telling my family and the guys at Durham has been pretty emotional.
“My mum was in tears and my dad was speechless, and they’re two things that don’t happen very often. All the Durham boys have been great – Mark Wood was bouncing off the walls, although that’s not unusual for him.
“To be appointed captain for the first games against the UAE was a big honour for me. To be honest I wouldn’t know what day it is at the moment, everything has been such a whirlwind. But the plan is for me to play the first two games against UAE, then maybe have a net the day after, and then fly to India – the England boys have been given a few days off between the Tests and a couple of them are coming here to Dubai, and I think I’ll join the squad when they’re getting together again for the game in Mumbai.”
Jennings, as a burgeoning accountant, surely knows he does not have the career numbers to back up the faith of England’s selectors. Yet given the relatively poor field, that’s not his fault.
He has had a good season and England have picked a form horse. Hopefully his luck can continue.
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