Jennings hopes father Ray will visit Lord’s after missing debut

England's batsman Keaton Jennings raises his bat after scoring a century against India.
England's batsman Keaton Jennings raises his bat after scoring a century against India.
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Keaton Jennings is refusing to bank on keeping his place for England’s next Test – but if he does face his native country South Africa at Lord’s he will do all he can to convince his dad Ray to come and watch him this time.

Jennings senior stayed away from his son’s Test debut in Mumbai last December, determined he would not cramp his style.

The 24-year-old opener responded with a century in his first innings – albeit in the third of four successive defeats against India for Alastair Cook’s team – while his father not only sacrificed the chance to be there in person but, thanks to an untimely power cut at his Mauritius holiday resort, did not even see on television the moment Keaton reached three figures.

By the time he could tune back in, any nervous 90s were long gone.

There is no sense of any regret in the Jennings clan, though.

Cook’s new Test partner is full of admiration that his dad stayed away from a country where his presence, as a former coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, could only have made a debut harder.

The lure for a highly-interested spectator may be stronger if Jennings is down to open again at Lord’s on July 6 – a date pencilled into the family calendar, but no more as yet.

After his two Tests so far, Jennings said: “To be (thinking I’m) a dead cert for something in six months’ time would be pushing my nose too far ahead.

“There are six months of cricket, a Lions tour, a North v South series, nine championship games ... all before any selection takes place.”

Nonetheless, if he is retained in a top three sure to feature Cook and probably England’s other rising star Haseeb Hameed, his dad will have first refusal of one of the best seats in the house at HQ.

“If I do play, I think I’m going to waste a ticket on him,” he said.

“I have already said if I play I would love him to be there – if he doesn’t get on the plane that’s his call.

“It’s any boy’s dream to have their loved ones there. A Test at Lord’s is a special day.”

It would be further fulfilment of hopes long harboured while a talent was being nurtured, and then allowed to make its own way.

“It was a selfless decision [my dad] made to not come to my debut – having invested so much as a father, a coach, to sit back and allow your kid to go into your world,” added Jennings.

“If I hadn’t done well, it would have heightened the intensity on me. He took that pressure off me.”

His maiden hundred was a rich reward – but after the thrill of initial achievement, Jennings is prepared to get a little greedy.

“You would love to make as many (Test centuries) as you can, for the euphoria, the happiness that bubbles over in your body when you do get it – it’s spine tingling,” he said.

“I would love to do it as many times as I can.”

To that end, there is no better role model than Cook – a captain whose future tenure remains in doubt but who made a telling impression on Jennings.

“To look at a guy who has achieved so much but still gave me so much is something to take note of. Within the tour, [he was] still making time for others,” the Durham player said.

“He’s been phenomenal for me – in those two-and-a-half weeks, he made a real impact on me and the way I viewed him as a person.

“You see people in the media and think how they will be, and he was 10 times better than that. He was brilliant.”

Leadership has played a significant part in Jennings’s own development – long before captaincy with England Lions, with whom he is preparing to tour Sri Lanka, in formative years as head boy at Johannesburg’s King Edward VII School, where he was a team-mate of brilliant South Africa wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock.

He can expect to be up against De Kock this summer, and it is cast-iron that he will also soon be batting alongside another South African he already knows well – after Durham signed Test opener Stephen Cook.

If and when he comes up against both at Test level, Jennings could be forgiven mixed feelings. He insists, however, that will categorically not be the case.

“Cricket is a game of bat v ball – you need to try and perform, regardless of whom you are playing against or with,” he said.

“It is about putting performances on the board that make you proud, and make the people you play for proud.”

England internationals Hameed and Ben Duckett will both represent Marylebone Cricket Club in March’s Champion County clash with Middlesex.

The pair, who both made their England Test debuts this winter, are part of a young MCC side that will take on the county champions in the annual day-night four-day clash in Abu Dhabi.

Hameed, currently working his way back to full fitness following a broken finger, and Duckett also play for England Lions on the tour of Sri Lanka over the next couple of months.

Skippered by Kent batsman Sam Northeast, the MCC team includes England Lions Joe Clarke, Tom Alsop and Lewis Gregory.

Worcestershire wicketkeeper Ben Cox, Kent all-rounder Matt Coles, Yorkshire’s young seamer Matt Fisher and Hampshire leg-spinner Mason Crane make up the XI.