Jen­nings ton keeps Eng­land in com­mand

Western Daily Press - - Sport - RORY DOLLARD in Galle

KEATON Jen­nings dug deep to de­liver a ca­reer-re­viv­ing cen­tury for Eng­land, and then laid bare the scale of the anx­i­eties and self-doubt he has ex­pe­ri­enced try­ing to prove him­self over the past 18 months.

Jen­nings bat­ted with dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion for more than six hours in Galle, fin­ish­ing 146 not out hav­ing painstak­ingly ma­noeu­vred his team into a win­ning po­si­tion over Sri Lanka on day three of the first Test of a three-match se­ries.

It was a match, and a tour, many felt the Lan­cashire opener should not even be part of af­ter a dread­ful sum­mer in which he av­er­aged just 19.2 across ten in­nings and looked bereft of con­fi­dence.

Hav­ing earned a re­prieve from the se­lec­tors, though, he has paid them back in spades, grind­ing a weary Sri Lankan at­tack into sub­mis­sion through sheer force of will. Most of his six bat­ting part­ners were more flu­ent, all of their stays more fleet­ing. By the time he was done, Eng­land had de­clared on 322 for six and the hosts were fac­ing up to a worl­drecord chase of 462.

Since scor­ing a hun­dred on de­but in 2016, Jen­nings has been on a roller­coaster – los­ing form dra­mat­i­cally, axed soon af­ter, and then hav­ing his tech­nique picked apart ruth­lessly on his un­suc­cess­ful re­turn this year.

“The re­lief is some­thing I can’t re­ally ex­plain. It’s just re­ally pleas­ing and it’s a big ‘ thank you’ to the peo­ple who have stuck with me over the last 18 months,” he said.

“You have to look at your im­me­di­ate cir­cle who are there when you need that hug, that shoul­der to cry on. My mum and dad have been re­ally good. My un­cle too. It’s been tough but I sit here re­ally proud.

“They have backed me through some tough times, wak­ing in the night pan­ick­ing and stress­ing and go­ing through some tough times.

“When you’re wak­ing up at 6.30 in the morn­ing and read­ing about your tech­ni­cal de­fi­cien­cies it’s not hu­man to say it wouldn’t af­fect you.”

It is un­usual – and un­usu­ally re­fresh­ing – to hear an elite ath­lete open­ing up in such a way. Jen­nings has al­ways been as­sid­u­ously po­lite, even when un­der se­vere scru­tiny, and there was no chance of him us­ing his plat­form to set­tle scores with his crit­ics.

In­stead he sim­ply re­vealed how deeply their words had hit him and how he went about bounc­ing back.

He added: “You feel the pinch from the me­dia point of view. You read things and that doubt gets cre­ated, the pressure gets cre­ated to the point where I sup­pose you wake up and doubt what cof­fee you’re hav­ing in the morn­ing... some­thing as sim­ple as that.

“So you try to ask your­self ‘Where is this pressure com­ing from?’. It is just from a lack of runs. The key was hav­ing a happy en­vi­ron­ment away from cricket.

“Cricket is a job – what is it, 8am7pm? – go home and en­joy a beer, en­joy a rum and coke, en­joy time with your niece and nephew. Be with your fam­ily. Ac­tu­ally have a life out­side of cricket. I think at times, this year and last year, it’s kept me sane.”

All he needs to cap a memorable week by the In­dian Ocean is for Eng­land’s bowlers to take ten wick­ets over two days and pre­vent the hosts rack­ing up a historic chase.

“Any time you put in a per­for­mance that en­ables your side to get into a match-win­ning po­si­tion is re­ally awe­some and hope­fully we can go on and win this Test,” he said.

Eranga Jayawar­dena

Eng­land’s Keaton Jen­nings, right, is con­grat­u­lated by team-mate Jos But­tler af­ter mak­ing his cen­tury

AP/Eranga Jayawar­dena

Keaton Jen­nings keeps the score­board tick­ing over

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