Debut ton for Keaton Jennings gives England good platform in Mumbai

Durham opener’s century gives tourists chance of a big total in fourth India Test

Keaton Jennings scored a century on his England Test debut in Mumbai. Photograph: Reuters/Danish Saddiqui

Keaton Jennings scored a century on his England Test debut in Mumbai. Photograph: Reuters/Danish Saddiqui

 

Fourth Test day one, stumps: England 288/5

Alastair Cook has spent four years waiting for a decent opening partner and then all of a sudden two of them come along in the space of three weeks. Keaton Jennings is the latest, welcome arrival. Under a cloudless sky he became the first England player since Billy Griffith in 1948 in Trinidad to score a century on his first day as a Test cricketer -and we can be fairly confident that Griffith did not reach those coveted three figures with a reverse sweep.

In the short-term Jennings’s admirable 112 was the foundation of England’s 288-5, a fair total on the first day of a Mumbai Test but by no means an impregnable one. As ever on this excellent surface there are runs to be scored early in the match. The ball bounces more here in a manner that encourages strokemakers; it also turns increasingly and the edges are more likely to carry. Mumbai is a long way from Chester-le-Street in very many ways but Jennings found a method to prosper in alien conditions.

Come July and the first Test against South Africa at Lord’s, England should now have rather more appetising options at the top of their order than has been the case in recent times. While Jennings was calmly navigating himself into the history books as well as the England team, his predecessor, Haseeb Hameed, looked on from the stands. Since the last Test Hameed has popped back to Leeds for an operation on his damaged finger but then he immediately rejoined his family who are still following the tour in India.

In July it should not be beyond the wit of the selectors to accommodate Jennings, Hameed and Cook somewhere in their top four. They have plenty of time to think about that. It may be pure coincidence but Jennings, like Hameed, owes much to a father acting as a devoted coach in his youth before his talents flourished on the county circuit rather than in a series of training camps with the Lions. While the domestic four-day competition still thrives in England it remains a genuine nursery for cricketers that the Australians currently envy.

After two sessions in the middle Jennings looked ever more at home as a Test cricketer, even when leaning on his bat, cross-legged at the non-striker’s end, eagerly soaking up a new form of cricket. It was not so straightforward at the start when he bustled out with Cook, playing five imaginary forward defensives in the space of three seconds before he had faced a ball.

For a quarter of an hour Jennings was all at sea and this uncertainty was highlighted when he was facing Umesh Yadav’s second over. A short ball was directed at his chest and, still on 0, he sparred tentatively; the ball caught the shoulder of his bat and headed in the air towards gully. There Karun Nair stuck out a hand and was unable to hold on to a sharp chance. This was a miss of great consequence to the game and - who knows? - the career of England’s latest opening batsman. This fright seemed to galvanise Jennings. He hit the last two balls of Yadav’s over to the boundary with a positive cut shot and a pull. Suddenly he was engaged; gradually Cook could look on at an increasingly reassuring presence, not so dissimilar to himself a decade ago.

Jennings unveiled the odd cover drive as well as some confident paddle sweeps against the spinners and when he felt the need to up the tempo he then played a stroke, which Cook rightly shuns because he is not of the right generation: that reverse sweep, which Jennings usually employed against Jayant Yadav.

At the other end Cook seemed not only impressed but also refreshed after a week off and a reunion with his family. He timed the ball easily from the start whoever the bowler; he even used his feet against the spinners in his determination to be proactive and this would be his undoing. Down he came to Ravindra Jadeja; the ball gripped and spun through the gate and Parthiv Patel completed a fine stumping since the ball was partially hidden on its way into his gloves.

England had raced to 117-1 in that first session; their progress was more sedate in the second - although there was a long delay when umpire Paul Reiffel was hit on the back of his head by a lobbed throw from the outfield by Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Reiffel was eventually replaced by the third umpire, Marais Erasmus, and he did not reappear for the rest of the day though a scan later pronounced him “all clear”.

Once Joe Root was caught at slip, opening the face of his bat against a non-turning off-break from Ravi Ashwin, Moeen Ali was Jennings’ partner. Moeen contributed ugly runs before tea, which is unusual for him. After the break he found fluency but then, having contributed the first half-century by an England number four in 20 innings, he fell top-edging a slog sweep against Ashwin.

Now India’s prime spinner resumed his torment of English batsmen as the ball began to turn more extravagantly. Two balls later Jennings was caught in the gully. The run rate slowed with Ben Stokes becalmed by Ashwin and then another top- edged sweep from Bairstow flew straight into the hands of Umesh Yadav near the square-leg boundary.

In the last 50 minutes England might have folded but their two most naturally aggressive batsmen, Stokes and Jos Buttler, batted with mature, grim discretion against the spinners in an unbeaten partnership of 39, which was all the more impressive for being out of character.

(Guardian service)

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