South African-born opener Keaton Jennings has been given a second chance in Test cricket with England
When you are out of the side, you are a better player. It may defy logic but this principle has often applied to England‘s selection thought process down the years.
Being away from the firing line, especially during a chastening first Test nine-wicket defeat against Pakistan at the Home of Cricket, is to one’s benefit and can increase a player’s stock given the intense criticism those in possession of the whites receive.
That philosophy, if you like, has helped Keaton Jennings.
Just nine months ago, in August 2017, the opener was ousted from the side following a wretched series facing his native South Africa, in which he averaged just 15.87 and was a near walking wicket outside the off-stump to pace bowling, edging behind six times in eight innings.
Ironically, Mark Stoneman – the man whom the Lancashire batsman has replaced for the must-win final Test with Pakistan beginning at Headingley on Friday – got his chance to take on the West Indies last summer and more recently play in the Ashes and against New Zealand, due to Jennings’ frailties.
England have now gone full circle back to a cricketer, who aside from what was an elegant Test hundred on debut against India in Mumbai in the winter of 2016-17 and follow-up fifty in Chennai, simply didn’t look like he measured up on the game’s grandest stage.
But, when England and their batting department isn’t performing – as is the case with this side – it suddenly makes those who are out of the reckoning viable and attractive options again.
It was pretty obvious England’s new national selector Ed Smith was going to discard an out-of-nick Stoneman for the Leeds match, but he is no less of a player than Jennings and probably deserved one more chance.
Nor is Nick Gubbins – the Middlesex star who should have finally been called up for his Test bow this week – but England weren’t brave enough and ultimately short-sighted.
Long-standing Surrey talent Rory Burns, who for some reason has never been called up at any level by England, was another alternative and potential pal for all-time leading run-scorer Alastair Cook at the top.
In many people’s book, one of those two excellent and refined cricketers had earned their chance but England have turned back to a formula that previously didn’t work.
Selection hierarchy will nod to the fact that, of all Cook’s 12 opening partners since 2012, no one but Jennings has earned a reprieve. There’s nothing in that grim history to suggest a Gubbins would cut it.
They have a point but the same could be said about Jennings’ lack of suitability to open in Tests, given his lack of foot movement and struggles to get forward to pace have been well documented.
Ultimately, it comes back to the selection dilemma about whether the talent you have at your immediate disposal is better than those sitting on the sidelines.
It’s a difficult conundrum to crack and has always been a hot topic of debate in the game. Indeed, every player and career has its ups and downs. For instance, the likes of Steve Smith and Joe Root were previously dropped from international cricket.
The English county domestic season has and is continuing to take critics from all angles at the moment for supposedly not developing players of a sufficient enough quality to play for their country.
There is no doubt the ECB has structural issues to work on, as does managing director Andrew Strauss’ long-term vision need time to blossom.
The pursuit of limited-overs success and the invention of new tournaments, such as the controversial 100-ball proposal, has also shifted the focus away from the traditional pride and joy of red-ball cricket.
But, when opportunity knocks in life, you have to lap it up and often it comes about because of the failings of others.
For Jennings, you at least have to give him immense credit for sticking at it.
Last year, he moved from Durham to Lancashire in a bid to win back his England place and while a decent return for Lancs in the County Championship this season, 314 runs with two centuries at 43.79, hasn’t set the world alight, the sacrifice worked.
He also captained the England Lions against West Indies in the winter to some success and has stayed on the radar.
However, Pakistan’s fearsome pace attack will certainly be eager to get stuck into him, and will no doubt be licking their lips at the prospect given his struggles against out-and-out fast bowling.
His re-selection doesn’t really strike a chord or bring much optimism – but there won’t be an English fan in the house hoping it isn’t 13th time lucky.