The sliding doors of Test cricket. Dropped before he got off the mark, Keaton Jennings scored an excellent century on debut to help make day one belong to England.
England 288-5 (Jennings 112, Ashwin 4-75)
Keaton Jennings has inherited much from his father Ray but the gift for self-promotion is perhaps lacking.
Jennings Snr never played Test cricket because of South Africa’s exclusion from international sport. Understandably it’s something he regrets. Speaking in 2005, Ray Jennings said: “I might have been the best [wicketkeeper] in the world”.
True or otherwise (and the evidence suggests he wasn’t wrong), it contrasts greatly with his son’s description of himself: “I just kind of crab about and get what I can,” he offered modestly in an AOC interview at the season’s close.
Today, Jennings crabbed around with the best of them. So much so you couldn’t call it crabbing. No, this was organised, intelligent, mature, well-paced, structured… it was f***ing brilliant. And it wasn’t devoid of style, either. Jennings had a bit of the Trescothicks about him, staying leg-side off the ball, tending not to move his feet but driving forcefully with his hands. The Tresco sweep and pull were also on display.
He spoke in the build-up of how delighted he was to be a part of the England Test team and how – whatever his job – he was going to give it all he had. “I’m really looking forward to even the possibility of playing. If I don’t I’m really happy just to be able to get amongst the guys, play some footy, get stuck in, carry drinks and do whatever I can.”
Whatever he could turned out to be something pretty special. The last five England batsmen to make tons on their Test debut are Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Graham Thorpe. It’s decent company to be in. It’s probably company that Jennings is mildly bashful about keeping.
“Keep jabbing” is a mantra of Jennings’, borne of a Durham dressing room that finds itself written off every season, but today he did far more than just jab. He attacked from the get-go, demonstrating the intent that Trevor Bayliss had called for. Bayliss has previously said that he wants two of his top three to be aggressive. Cook, Hameed and Jennings – in whatever order they may come – doesn’t necessarily scream ‘Attack’ but Jennings displayed today that he won’t just sit around and wait to be dimissed. That we’re pencilling him in for England’s top three already is a sign of how impressive he was today.
And jabbing may be something that England have to get used to. After dominating the first two sessions an Ashwin-inspired Indian fightback in the afternoon went some way towards levelling things up. The fight’s on. This pitch is already turning – more than any others in the series so far – and what a good score may be is as yet unclear. What is apparent, though, is that this pitch will get harder to bat on as the game progresses. A total of 400 should put England in a good position.
England’s final-session stutter – and the dismissals of Alastair Cook and Moeen Ali specifically – resulted in an element of chuntering, but with the benefit of hindsight you’ll never be wrong. England’s aggression served them well for much of today, resulting in Kohli following the ball, giving singles away and releasing the pressure. Neither shot can be exempt from criticism – but both were continuing in the manner that had allowed England to set their platform.
After Mohali Trevor Bayliss spoke about the importance of doing things well, whether you’re being attacking or defensive. Cook and Moeen’s departures should be judged only for the fact that they failed in doing what they were trying to do, and not for their aggressive intent. We cannot have it both ways.
Ben Stokes, it seems, can have it both ways. He can be England’s six-hitting gun or, increasingly, their sensible partnership-builder. His effort in the afternoon sunshine today – in tandem with Jos Buttler, with whom he put on 39 – confirmed it as England’s day. What Stokes showed, in much the same way that Jennings had, was that neither aggression nor defence is inherently a good or bad thing. Both have to be done well and there are times for both.
They are, though, quite different people. Today, more so than anyone else, it’s Durham’s most self-effacing man who has reason to stand proud. His innings today won’t be forgotten by many, from Sunderland to South Africa. Not that he’ll be shouting about it any time soon.
All Out Cricket’s coverage of the India-England Test series is in association with Southall Travel