Now before you get the idea that I’m a part of the crowd that thought that Keaton Jennings’ century was fantastic against India and that he was set for life, I actually wasn’t. Unfortunately the Corker Yorker blog did not exist at that time, so no views could have been spoken of when it happened.
I’m genuinely someone who tries to play devil’s advocate when it comes to cricket and players making their debuts or coming back into form. I definitely do not believe that because someone scored 50 off 38 balls in one match after a string of ducks and golden ducks is back to their prime state of form. If they can do that for five innings straight (depending on the format), then they are truly back on form. Feel free to disagree though.
The main focus of this short article is to focus very briefly on Keaton Jennings. As most know, he is the son of Ray Jennings who played first class cricket for South Africa. He had captained the South African U19 team in 2011 on a tour to England. He played his last Gauteng game in South Africa in March 2012. When he arrived a month later, he spent the next four years playing domestically until he got his call up. He made his debut for the England squad in 2016 in India where he scored a century in the first innings and a duck in the second.
There was a tweet by Jacques Kallis discrediting the politics in South Africa which had infiltrated into the cricket, which was draining the talent here. He had also stated that “another one had slipped through the system”. Now, Kallis is a legend, but that statement was a little… strange. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if an opening batsman who only averaged around 35 was handed a cap to play for the country, it would have been deemed more an experiment to see how they would fair internationally rather than for his talent. I would have been very surprised to see Cricket South Africa give Jennings one if he stayed. He was not doing anything spectacular here, so his migration to England is not a real loss for SA cricket. We’re still trying to figure out whether or not AB’s coming back to test cricket, and if Duminy’s test days are done.
This test series has not been an easy one for the opening batsmen – both English and South African batsmen have struggled against the new ball, barring Dean Elgar and Alistair Cook. Jennings, however, has only managed to score into double digits twice in the six innings he’s played, often getting nicked off to the slips. He had no idea where his off-stump is, which makes the bowlers, Philander especially, hungry to cash in on his wicket. It looked like Cook didn’t have any faith in him either, as he refused to rotate the strike in the beginning of the first innings in the third test. It was only when Tom Westley had come to the crease, did these two rotate the strike better.
His previous records internationally are just as poor. He’s only scored one 50 and one century in ten innings, with an average of 25.90 and a strike rate of 44.27. That’s his whole international test career! If anyone in the Proteas team, or any other team for that matter had stats like those, they would have been dropped. Many debutants underestimate the massive change from playing domestically to internationally, and their technique is getting uncovered.
He may have scored 48 in the third test match against South Africa in this series, but that means nothing if he cannot follow through in the next game. Internationally, we don’t know what an in-form Keaton Jennings is like.
So, I ask you cricket fans in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world: is Jennings really a loss in South African cricket? All I’m saying is that quota targets can be a good thing sometimes: they help actually discover more talent than you thought you had in the cricket setup. Not everyone agrees with the targets, and that’s fine, but don’t go and state that the loss of a mediocre player is someone who has “slipped through the system”.