Keaton Jennings accepts Test cricket can be “a brutal world” but is eager to prove it is one he can thrive in.
Jennings is set to open the innings alongside newcomer Rory Burns when England’s three-match series against Sri Lanka gets under way in Galle on Tuesday, having clung to his place following Alastair Cook’s retirement.
I don’t think your place is ever not under discussion. That’s the brutal world of Test cricket but I’m honoured to be here and it’s a huge privilege.England batsman, Keaton Jennings
All eyes will be on the 26-year-old after a lean summer, during which he averaged just 19.20 in 10 innings, and he is under no illusions about the scrutiny he is in for.
In Colombo yesterday he banked important time at the crease on the final day of warm-up action, soaking up 95 deliveries and compiling a hard-earned 45. More of the same will be required on what is sure to be a tricky surface, and a step up in class, next week – but Jennings is ready.
“I look at a guy like Alastair, he played 160-odd Tests on the bounce and his place was up for discussion at the end of last season,” he said.
“I don’t think your place is ever not under discussion. That’s the brutal world of Test cricket but I’m honoured to be here and it’s a huge privilege.
“I’ll arrive every day with a smile on my face and try to give it my best crack. It was nice to get some runs under my belt but Tuesday is crunch time. It’s a new series, a tour and new opposition.
“I need to get some runs and that’s the bottom line.”
In January 2016 Jennings scored a century in his maiden Test innings in Mumbai, a golden moment he has never come close to matching since.
He will be hoping a return to sub-continental conditions can help him relocate his muse, admitting his recent experiences in England were a trial.
“I suppose you do try and talk yourself into a bit of confidence at times,” he said.
“The series against India this year was tough at times, with the ball moving around. At times you sort of close your eyes and repeat to yourself that you’re going to get through it.”
Other than Jennings, Jack Leach was probably the player who gained most from England’s drawn 50-overs-a-side clash against a Board XI.
Leach bowled his 13 overs tidily, economically and occasionally dangerously and looks perfectly ready to take his part in a three-man bowling attack.
There are other areas of uncertainty to debate in the coming days, though, with Joe Denly’s two-ball duck seemingly confirming suspicions he is struggling for form and his leg-spin easily milked for 43 runs in five overs.
The selectors must now decide whether to stick with their initial instincts to pick him at three, but Ben Foakes’ emergence as wicketkeeper for the last 25 overs of the match in Colombo suggests he could be drafted for a debut.
There is also a decision to be made in the fast bowling ranks, with Sam Curran, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone seemingly chasing one space.