Lat­est vic­tim swerves chuck­ing-out time at last-chance sa­loon

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Third Investec Test - SCYLD BERRY AT THE OVAL

There is al­ways an Eng­land bats­man in the lastchance sa­loon, or else about to en­ter its swing doors. The play­ers should make a joke of it. They should de­mar­cate a cor­ner of their dress­ing-room, hang a sign above it marked LCS, and equip it with a lit­tle noose above and trap­door be­low.

Al­most ev­ery Eng­land bats­man is in dan­ger of los­ing their spot at some point – or, rather, is per­ceived to be. For it is largely a cre­ation of the me­dia, writ­ten and so­cial. Oc­ca­sion­ally a bats­man is play­ing what is go­ing to be his last Test, and ev­ery­body knows it, in­clud­ing the man him­self – like Nick Comp­ton at Lord’s last year when he walked out against Sri Lanka – but of­ten the player is in the LCS only if he be­lieves it to be so, when the prophecy be­comes self-ful­fill­ing.

Alas­tair Cook, Eng­land’s high­est Test run-scorer, was there seven years ago at the Oval. His pre­de­ces­sor as Eng­land cap­tain, An­drew Strauss, was in the LCS at Napier on a tour of New Zealand in the spring of 2007, all the nearer to the drop be­cause he was be­ing made to bat out of po­si­tion at num­ber three. Paul Colling­wood was a reg­u­lar in­hab­i­tant, but es­pe­cially be­fore the Edg­bas­ton Test of 2008.

All these dis­tin­guished oc­cu­pants may have been given an­other chance, or sev­eral. The point is that they thought the end was nigh, and they re­acted to the chal­lenge like cham­pi­ons by scor­ing a cen­tury, thereby ex­tend­ing their ca­reers un­til ful­fil­ment.

Other Test-play­ing coun­tries sel­dom play this game within the game. If an In­dian jour­nal­ist were to sug­gest Vi­rat Kohli should ei­ther score runs in his next Test or be dropped, he might not be given a pass to cover the match.

Ire­land have been given Test sta­tus, in spite of thin­ning re­sources, such that few of their bats­men can hold down a reg­u­lar place in a county side: so if their me­dia were to adopt this prac­tice of putting them in the last-chance sa­loon af­ter a few fail­ures, it would soon be buzzing like a Dublin bar on a Satur­day night, while their dress­ing-room would be fairly empty.

Be­fore this Test, Keaton Jen­nings was in­stalled in the LCS, even though this is only his fifth match. But then Ben Duck­ett dis­ap­peared through the trap­door af­ter only four Tests last au­tumn, and James Vince af­ter seven Tests last sum­mer.

Cook’s open­ing part­ners in par­tic­u­lar have not evaded the noose with the same dex­ter­ity as he: Sam Rob­son and Adam Lyth were gone af­ter seven Tests each, a cen­tury apiece not suf­fi­cient to save them.

Few al­lowances seem to be made in this game within the game. Jen­nings copped a wrong de­ci­sion at Lord’s, when given lbw to a ball that marginally pitched out­side leg and was des­tined to go down leg side.

He scored 33 in his se­cond in­nings, a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion in the light of 19 wick­ets fall­ing the next day; he had made a 50 in his pre­vi­ous Test, and 112 in the one be­fore that, his de­but. Yet as soon as he had one bad game at Trent Bridge, it was the same cry as the Queen of Hearts: off with his head!

Jen­nings has tech­ni­cal cor­rec­tions to make – and has to make them rapidly if he is to sur­vive at Test level. He tried one here, by tak­ing guard out­side his crease against Ver­non Phi­lan­der, to re­duce the chances of be­ing lbw. He has to get his head fur­ther for­ward when he plays on the front foot, but he can do it against spin­ners – In­dian spin­ners – so he is not too in­flex­i­ble to do it against pace; and he might be bet­ter suited to No3.

Test cricket is un­remit­tingly tough, yet the game within the game is harsher still, be­cause few al­lowances are made – by those who play at LCS – for Morne Morkel and Phi­lan­der be­ing top-class new-ball bowlers, es­pe­cially against left-han­ders, op­er­at­ing in a cloudy sum­mer on three pitches that have helped them. Cook him­self has been dis­missed for sin­gle fig­ures in half his in­nings this se­ries.

In reach­ing 34 be­fore the rain wiped out the rest of day three, Jen­nings was dropped by third slip off Phi­lan­der – but this should not be seen as luck. Dean El­gar had come in close – for Phi­lan­der against Jen­nings – in Eng­land’s first in­nings, and had been re­warded when scoop­ing up a chance that would not have oth­er­wise car­ried. On the other side of this coin was the risk that El­gar would not have time to sight a harder edge, like the one from Jen­nings when he had scored six.

Graeme Smith, the longest­serv­ing of all Test cap­tains, told Test Match Spe­cial lis­ten­ers about the in­nings when he had strug­gled most at the out­set, at Edg­bas­ton in 2008, the same match as Colling­wood’s re­deem­ing hun­dred. Smith then pulled James An­der­son for four and ev­ery­thing clicked into place – he scored a se­ries-win­ning cen­tury.

For Jen­nings, on a more mod­est scale, it was a cou­ple of square-cuts for four that he played when Kag­iso Rabada re­placed Phi­lan­der. He was up and walk­ing, if not run­ning, and in the op­po­site di­rec­tion from the LCS.

Sharp chance: Dean El­gar gave Keaton Jen­nings a re­prieve by drop­ping him in the slip cor­don

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