Ed Smith has been forced to defend the inclusion of Keaton Jennings in the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka despite the opener's dismal summer for England in the home Test series against India.
England secured a 4-1 series victory in spite of Jennings’ meagre run total of 163 across all five Tests, with an average of just18.
Combined with fellow opener Alistair Cook’s own batting woes, Jennings’ repeated failures with the bat put greater pressure on a fragile middle order and was often a prelude to an all-too-familiar batting collapse.
Jennings has a solitary test hundred to his name, coming on his debut in 2016 against India in spin-friendly conditions at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.
With the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka expected to be played in conditions extremely favourable to spin bowling, it is Jennings’ success in Mumbai that may have influenced Smith’s decision to include Jennings in the latest squad.
"Going into the Oval Test, if you take England, Pakistan and India together, the opening batsmen averaged 20, which is what Keaton was," ECB selector Smith said.
"He conforms to that average. That is how difficult it was.
"Keaton has a Test hundred in Mumbai, when the ball spun dramatically, so he can take confidence from that. Also, going through tough times in international sport can put you in good stead.
England fans with a penchant for statistics will note, however, that Jennings followed his maiden hundred up with a first ball duck in the second innings, LBW against the right arm medium Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
What’s more, Jennings’ first innings dismissal in the final Test at the hands of spinner Ravindra Jadeja will not have gone unnoticed by the Sri Lankans; in favourable conditions Jennings nudged an innocuous-looking delivery straight to leg slip.
England have struggled to find an opening partner for stalwart Alastair Cook over the last few years, with Nick Compton, Adam Lyth, Alex Hales and even Moeen Ali all occupying the number 2 spot in the batting order as of late.
However, with Cook’s retirement from international cricket now confirmed, that opening partnership will become an even bigger priority and concern for the England selectors.
If England are to have success on the sub-continent this winter it is vital that a secure opening pairing is established, but with uncertainty looming over Smith’s revamped England side it remains to be seen from where such stability will arise.
Also included in the squad are the uncapped pair of Surrey’s Rory Burns and Kent’s Joe Denly.
The former seems the most likely candidate to join Jennings at the crease on November 14 in Galle, although fellow debutant Denly has also opened for his county and provides a handy back-up option.
But with two internationally inexperienced batsmen vying for a place alongside the much-maligned Jennings, the near future for England’s top order remains shrouded in doubt.
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