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.
Keaton Jennings must make the numbers stack up this time after being given a second chance to prove himself as a Test match opener.
Jennings knows from his accountancy studies off the pitch as well as his previous England struggles on it that it can sometimes be difficult to achieve viable statistics.
In six Tests before being dropped in favour of Mark Stoneman nine months ago, the left-hander could muster only 294 runs at an average of 24.50 despite a century on debut in Mumbai.
Against Pakistan at Headingley this week, the 25-year-old will become the first of the 12 openers tried since 2012 as Alastair Cook’s partner to be given a second shot at what Jennings describes as “one of the toughest jobs in Test cricket”.
Long before he was first called up for England, Jennings began a university accountancy degree as a teenager – and he is still working towards his graduation, between cricket assignments.
Asked if he can make a success of his Test aspirations as England bid to battle back from their nine-wicket defeat at Lord’s, he said: “I suppose that’ll only be answered at the end of the week.
“You will only get judged on the amount of runs you score.
“With cricket, you can do everything right and things just don’t work out sometimes.
“(But) I’m really excited for this week – I want to play with a happy heart and a big smile on my face.”
Jennings hopes his move from Durham to Lancashire will help him handle his return to Test cricket.
“I’ve moved away to address those issues, not only technically but in my life and the way I was going about things,” he said.
“At the end of the week I’m sure there’ll be more talk about whether the changes have worked.
“If there are runs on the board then great – if not, I guess there’s more addressing to be done.”
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) May 30, 2018
In a BBC interview, he made it clear he will not invite extra pressure.
He added: “I want to enjoy this week. It might be the last Test I play – so I really want to enjoy the feeling.
“It’s one of the toughest jobs in Test cricket, especially in England.
“That’s what makes Cookie one of the most valuable players around. He’s the only player to score 10,000 Test runs as an opener (Cook has 11,472), he averages 45, he’s played 153 Tests on the bounce – and that’s also why there’s been a lot of guys rotated around him.”
Jennings’ brief is to ensure he does not become the first to be ‘rotated’ twice – and to that end he will rely on relevant knowledge already acquired.
“You try and lean on your support structure, lean on people you trust, anybody at the time that you feel is going to make a difference and pull you through that dark period,” he said, recalling the circumstances preceding his omission last summer.
“This is huge. I feel privileged, honoured and I hope I can make an impact.”
Eoin Morgan is relieved he will be ready to captain England in their upcoming one-day internationals against Scotland and Australia despite a broken finger.
Morgan has had to pull out of captaining the World XI in Thursday’s Twenty20 clash with the West Indies at Lord’s – but will be ready when England start their ODI schedule against Scotland on June 10.
The England skipper was named in a 13-man squad to face Scotland and also a 14-strong line-up for the five clashes with Australia, that starts at The Oval on June 13.
“I have a small fracture in the ring finger of my right hand,” Morgan told Press Association Sport.
“I got hit in a game on Sunday at Somerset.
“It’s disappointing but it’s not the worst news that could have come through.
“It’s a week to 10 days to get the swelling down in the finger and then protect it as we go on.
“So it’s a relief that I’ll be ready, yes.
“We never thought it was that bad a break, it didn’t dislocate, which is always a good sign.
“I’m excited about playing against Australia and India this summer, and I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Official: We have named our ODI squads to face Scotland and Australia.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) May 30, 2018
Sam Billings will deputise for wicketkeeper Jos Buttler for the Scotland clash, with seamer Tom Curran bolstering the ranks for the Australia series.
Morgan has warned England to beware Australia’s determination to move past the recriminations of the ball-tampering affair in March’s Test series with South Africa that stunned the global game.
Captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were hit with year-long bans, while batsman Cameron Bancroft received a nine-month sanction.
Darren Lehman was cleared by Cricket Australia of any involvement but he stepped down from his coaching role in a wide-ranging fall-out from the scandal.
But now Morgan has backed the Australians to put all that in the past – and has told his England squad to be wary of the wounded visitors.
“I think they will be ready, and with one eye on the World Cup they will come with a strong performance,” said Morgan, speaking at an event to mark one year until the start of Cricket World Cup 2019.
“What’s happened to them in the last six months has the potential to galvanise a young, hungry side.
“So we’re going to have bring our A game to this series. And again it’s going to be a good challenge for us moving forward.”
England squad v Scotland
EJG Morgan (Captain), MM Ali, JM Bairstow, SW Billings (wkt), AD Hales, LE Plunkett, AU Rashid, JE Root, JJ Roy, BA Stokes, DJ Willey, CR Woakes, MA Wood
England squad v Australia
EJG Morgan (Captain), MM Ali, JM Bairstow, JC Buttler (wkt), TK Curran, AD Hales, LE Plunkett, AU Rashid, JE Root, JJ Roy, BA Stokes, DJ Willey, CR Woakes, MA Wood