There is an engaging, fresh-faced candour about Keaton Jennings which gives a hint why the men that matter were eager to keep him in that dressing room when the runs stubbornly refused to come. He was a borderline choice for this tour and not absolutely certain to play in this match. But with England’s batting done here he has scored 192 runs and only been dismissed once. The faith has been repaid.
Jennings spoke about a rush of feelings as he clipped the single that took him to his second Test century – “a mixture of elation, relief and happiness” – quite a contrast to some of the emotions of the last 18 months when he has struggled to deliver as an England opening batsman. “There were times when I was waking up in the middle of the night and panicking and stressing,” he admitted. “And over coffee at 6.30 am I might then find myself reading about my technical deficiencies. I would not be human if I said these things did not affect me.”
His performance in Galle takes him out of the spotlight; the pressure may not seem so intense now. For the first time in a while he can be guaranteed a place in England’s next Test match. But his experiences over the past two years, when he has seen Alastair Cook, no less, fretting about his form, let alone himself, adds a note of caution. “It would be stupid to say that over the next year or so I won’t be under that pressure again.”
In his Test career he has excelled against spin and Jennings, who hails from Johannesburg, which is hardly a haven of spin bowling, offered an explanation of how this part of his game has improved. “I went with the Lions to Dubai in 2016 and Andy Flower and Graham Thorpe helped me develop my method.”
He reverse sweeps far more than most batsmen and that has the old-timers gasping. “That shot is one of my strengths. It gets me out of jail sometimes,” he said. “On day one, when the wicket was tackier, I decided that reverse sweeping was often less of a risk than playing with a straight bat.”
In this department, at least, he overshadows his mighty predecessor, Cook, whom he has studied so eagerly over the last two years. Jennings reverse sweeps far better than Cook has ever done. And in Galle he showed the sort of resolution and concentration that fortified Cook’s career, a comparison that will make this smiling cricketer very happy.