Keaton Jennings is happy to continue putting himself in the firing line for England after turning the tide of the second Test against Sri Lanka with two remarkable pieces of fielding at short leg.
The hosts ended day four in Kandy seven down for 226, still 75 short of the winning line, with England’s hand considerably strengthened by Jennings’ incredible reactions.
He had already made a highly improbable catch off Jack Leach’s bowling, a one-handed reflex grab as his body tumbled in the opposite direction, when he conjured something even more intrepid and instinctive.
First anticipating a Dimuth Karunaratne sweep, he followed the trajectory and gamely flung a hand in the way of the cleanly-hit stroke. The ball popped to wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, who completed the dismissal, and though Jennings’ part will not be recorded in the scorecards, it was his effort which broke the biggest partnership of a nervy day.
“I’d love to say I parried it to Foaksey but I genuinely tried to catch it. It just hit me really hard,” he confessed.
“You get a feeling of what the batter is looking to do, you try to watch his movements and match your movements with where he’s trying to hit the ball: you generally try and get in the way.
“I saw him go down to paddle and just set off running. To get that wicket for the team is really cool.”
With the uncomfortable proximity to swinging bats and flying cricket balls, life under the helmet is not for everyone and many teams routinely use the position as a form of initiation for their most junior member.
The danger of fielding in close has been spelled out twice on this tour, with opposition fielder Pathum Nissanka hospitalised after being hit by a Jos Buttler pull during a pre-series warm-up in Colombo and Rory Burns pinged on the bottom of the neck in the Galle Test.
Jennings realises the dangers associated with the position but appears attracted to the match-turning possibilities attached to it in the sub-continent.
“There was a discussion between a few of us, and the outcome was that I’d go in. On surfaces like this when you feel you’re involved in the game it’s really awesome,” he said.
“It’s close, the ball’s hard and guys are sweeping. You’re going to get hit, you’ve got to accept that. You’re going to get bad balls bowled and you’re in the firing line.
“But it’s like being in the slips on a green seamer in England – you feel like you’re in the game and that you can make an impact. At 6ft 4in I wouldn’t say I’m the traditional type of player to go in but I enjoy it.”
Jennings’ efforts certainly deserve to be part of a winning cause but with the dangerous Niroshan Dickwella still at the crease for Sri Lanka, and the pitch slowing down, he expects England’s search for the final three wickets to be a tense one.
“It’s by no stretch game over. Cricket just doesn’t work like that,” he said. “We need to come out again, be patient with our areas and make sure we take our chances.”
Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews, whose late dismissal for 88 derailed an increasingly impressive pursuit, was confident.
“A hundred per cent,” he said of his side’s victory chances.
“We are 75 runs away, the ball is soft. We have a batsman left in the crease and others can chip in as well. Cricket is a funny game.”