Warm welcome shaped Jennings

Keaton Jennings is thankful he got one of the hardest decisions of his life right '“ when he committed his cricket future to England.

Durham Jets' Keaton Jennings.

The 24-year-old had just finished a campaign in England as South Africa Under-19 captain when fate dealt him the dilemma of whether to continue to try to push for international recognition with his native country or switch allegiance.

Jennings, set to make his Test debut in Mumbai tomorrow as England captain Alastair Cook’s 11th opening partner in the last four years, consulted his father – the renowned disciplinarian ex-South Africa coach Ray Jennings – before deciding to make the move. After a four-year qualification period, a breakthrough summer with Durham in 2016 and the misfortune of Haseeb Hameed – out of the series against India with a badly-broken left hand –he has been left on the verge of a maiden Test cap as England try to battle back from 2-0 down with two to play.

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Asked what tipped the scales for him back in 2012, Jennings cited primarily the systems in place in English cricket and the friendliness of the people he met in his Sunderland-born mother’s native north east.

He said: “It’s the opportunity, the professionalism ... there was a combination of feeling really welcome, feeling loved and being pushed as well.

“I’ve always said since I was small that if I make it in cricket that’s brilliant, if I don’t then I want to know I’ve given it my best shot.

“At the time I sat down with my dad and I felt it would be my best opportunity to live my dream in the UK and I’m very glad, as I sit here now, to have made that hard decision.”

He was sitting, in fact, in his first England press conference, very much at home having finished his first practice session with his new Test team-mates.

“At the moment I’m feeling very comfortable and very English, despite my accent,” he added.

“The more time you spend in a country, the more you feel welcome.

“Especially in the north east, the people are very welcoming, and that made me feel part of the furniture essentially.

“I’m blessed that they’ve welcomed me ... with open arms.”

Jennings’s Durham future remains in some doubt following the financially-stricken county’s demotion and stringent points penalty as conditions of their bail-out from the England and Wales Cricket Board.

As things stand, though, he has a contract extended for another four years – albeit with a clause which allows him to revisit that decision on account of relegation – and he has put down roots within a decent arm of his club’s headquarters.

“I bought a property a couple of years ago, a nice little two-bed flat in Chester-le-Street,” he said.

“I’ve got a local pub as well. The more time you spend in a country, the more you feel welcome.”

His father is not exactly round the corner, but his is the advice Jennings still prizes the most.

“I’m probably closer to him than I am to anybody else in the world – from a father point of view, from a role model, from a coach,” said Jennings.

“I’m blessed to have a person in my life that I trust, that I trust with my life, and that will help me guide my career.

“The outward persona (is) of a very hard and concrete man – in the family house he’s very loving and gentle.”

That may be a revelation to many, but Jennings junior’s take on how to help England fight back against India borrows a little more obviously from the teachings of a hard taskmaster.

He said: “It is 2-0 down against tough opposition ... I hope we can land a few haymakers and throw some punches back.”

Jennings knows a bit about this part of the world already, again courtesy of his father, after spending time with him while he was coach of Bangalore Royal Challengers in the Indian Premier League back in 2009.

“I came with my dad to the IPL, and was a bit of a tourist, and really enjoyed it,” Jennings said.

“I’m coming back to a place that I liked previously.”

England must hope that Jennings’s second Indian adventure proves rewarding too.

Meanwhile, England seamer Stuart Broad underwent a series of fitness drills and then bowled three to four overs in the Wankhede Stadium nets yesterday, increasingly at full pace without any apparent ill-effects, as he tries to recover in time for the fourth Test from a strained tendon in his right foot.

Moeen Ali has yet to discover how the apparent lottery over his position in the England batting order will pan out this week.

In the all-rounder’s 35-Test career to date, he has occupied every number from one to nine – adding three to his repertoire for the first time in the second innings of England’s defeat in Mohali last week.

Asked where he will fit in as England try to battle back from 2-0 down with two to play against India in the fourth Test in Mumbai, he said: “I don’t have a clue yet ... I’ll probably find out tomorrow.”