Mumbai Test: Ray Jennings' son Keaton provides hope against India
Ex-South Africa coach Jennings' kid Keaton likely to become captain Alastair Cook’s third opening partner of the series when the fourth Test gets underway at Wankhede tomorrow
In Rajkot, the focus was on 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed who forced his way into Test reckoning on the weight of his impressive domestic performances. Exactly a month later, the focus is on 24-year-old Keaton Jennings who is most likely to become skipper Alastair Cook's 11th opening partner since current ECB director Andres Strauss retired in August 2012 in tomorrow's fourth Test against India at the Wankhede Stadium.
Like Hameed, Keaton too is a prolific run-scorer in the County Championships. Playing for Durham in Division One, he scored 1602 runs with two double hundreds against Surrey and Yorkshire last season. But the spotlight just doesn't end with that. It is his South African roots and his lineage that makes his cricketing journey that much more interesting.
South African connection
Born in Johannesburg to South African father Ray Jennings (former South Africa and Royal Challengers Bangalore coach, who played 14 unofficial Tests in the apartheid years) and English mother Alison, Keaton led the South African U-19 team on a tour to England in 2011 before moving there permanently.
England's Keaton Jennings (left) and captain Alastair Cook during a training session at Wankhede Stadium ahead of the fourth Test against India in Mumbai yesterday. Pic/AFP
"I finished school and came over to England straightaway in April 2011, and from there I tried to find my way into English cricket. Straight after that Under-19 series, I got on a train out of Dover and rejoined the Durham Academy. "From that point, I definitely pulled the pin and threw my lot in with England. The guys up north made me feel really welcome. Stokesy (Ben Stokes), Colly (Paul Collingwood), Woody (Mark Wood) have been three of the main drivers in helping me settle down and pave my life in the UK."
Though he calls himself "very English" despite his South African accent, he never thought that he would play for England someday. Even his idols — Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Mike Hussey — are anything but English. Then, what made him land in England?
"The opportunity, the professionalism — I can't put my exact finger on it, but there was a welcome feeling, and feeling of being loved and being pushed as well. I have always said since I was small that if I make it in cricket that is brilliant. If I don't then I want to know I have 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. I'm very glad as I sit here now to have made that hard decision."
Jennings' cricketing lessons started at home under his strict father, whom he still refers to as coach. It wasn't all that smooth. "I can't remember the last time I called him Dad. When I was nine or 10 we went to the nets, and it was one of those days I decided not to listen. He threw me the first ball. I got out. Second ball, I got out. He said: 'If you get out one more time, we're going home.' He threw me another ball, I got out. He put his bag down and walked off. From that day forward he has always been 'Coachy' to me."
What's dad Ray Jennings' advice for this tour?
Drink plenty of water, and especially from closed bottles.
How will you handle the pressure of being 0-2 down in the series?
I don't think being 0-2 down is pressure. I have always been told pressure is a privilege. It is one of the things my Dad has tried to drum into me as
How do you plan to handle the Indian spinners?
It depends on what is served up. I will try to be positive if it is in my scoring areas. If not, I will try and bat time and take guys into their third or fourth spell.
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