KEATON JENNINGS is hoping Ben Stokes will be the right man to break the ice for him once he meets the England Test squad for the first time in Mumbai.
Haseeb Hameed’s departure from the tour with a broken hand means Jennings, called up on Wednesday alongside fellow replacement Liam Dawson, is set to become captain Alastair Cook’s 11th opening partner since Andrew Strauss’ retirement when the five-Test series against India resumes next week.
The uncapped Durham left-hander will have a tough act to follow after teenager Hameed’s wonderfully-skilled and brave, unbeaten half-century – down at No 8 because of his injury – failed to avert an eight-wicket defeat in Mohali but won him a wealth of new admirers.
England hope they have found a lasting foil for Cook, but Hameed’s Test future is on hold until next summer at least as he heads home to have a plate inserted in his left little finger.
Opportunity therefore knocks for Jennings – as well as Dawson, summoned from the Bangladesh Premier League as a like-for-like replacement for left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari who has failed to recover from the back spasm which struck in the second-Test defeat in Vizag and then ruled him out of the third too.
Jennings’ first England debut of the month will be as captain of the Lions against hosts United Arab Emirates in a one-day international in Dubai today, a maiden tour which is already a departure from his original plans.
The South Africa-born batsman has put on hold the winter swotting he has done for accountancy exams over recent years, and will instead be counting on charismatic Durham and England match-winner Stokes to help make the introductions with a dressing-room full of international team-mates.
“To be going there as a member of the England squad, I’m going to have to introduce myself to a lot of new guys I guess – because a lot of them I only know as opposition,” he said.
“I reckon Stokesy will be a good guy to break the ice!”
It is anyone’s guess what information the energetic all-rounder may impart. But either way, Jennings is pinching himself at the prospect of joining up in India.
Speaking the morning after hearing from Lions head coach Andy Flower that his winter itinerary was about to take a new direction, Jennings’ mind was still a blur after spreading the news to his mum and dad – former South Africa coach Ray – and his Durham pals too.
He said: “Andy Flower told me on Tuesday night. It was a lot to take in, and very exciting.
“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.”
Durham’s occasionally eccentric England fast bowler Mark Wood, himself recovering from injury, was among those Jennings called.
“All the Durham boys have been great – Mark Wood was bouncing off the walls....although that’s not unusual for him,” he added.
It will be a second trip to India for the 24-year-old, who was last there as a teenager when his father was coaching Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League.
“That was a great experience, but this is going to be very different.
“The thought of going back to India is exciting.”
Jennings’ first task, though, is to clear his mind for his next match against UAE.
He said: “I need to have a coffee this afternoon, get my head around everything that’s happened – and also get my focus right for tomorrow’s game.
“To be appointed captain for the first games against the UAE was a big honour for me.”
He is due to lead the Lions again on Saturday, in the second of their three 50-over fixtures, and then take the four-hour flight to Mumbai where the fourth Test of five will begin a week on Thursday, with England 2-0 down and up against it to somehow try to battle back for an unlikely drawn series.
Jennings will deal with those specifics once he is at least in the right time zone.
“I wouldn’t know what day it is at the moment – everything has been such a whirlwind,” he continued.
“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.
“I think I’ll join the squad when they’re getting together again for the game in Mumbai.”