England’s Faith In Jennings Boarders On Absurdity

England’s Faith In Jennings Boarders On Absurdity

It has been tough being an opener in this series. No one denies it. It took 34 innings for an opener to first register a fifty in this series: Alastair Cook in the first innings of the fifth Test at the Oval. To put this into context, there has never been a five match Test series where an opener did not score a fifty – and this series came dangerously close.

Now, with England’s Alastair Cook, a legend of the game, retiring at the end of this series there is even more pressure on Keaton Jennings to deliver. Despite his awful form, not crossing fifty in ten innings, the England management have announced that they are still backing Jennings and are almost guaranteed to send him to Sri Lanka.

This raises more questions than it answers. Are England purely keeping Jennings on for Sri Lanka because of his performances in India several years ago? Is the County circuit failing so badly that there is no feasible replacement for Jennings?

All things considered, Rory Burns has to be opening the batting for England come October. Burns, the Surrey captain, has crossed a thousand runs in each of his past five County Championship seasons. His omission from the England squad this year was puzzling and many tipped him to replace Jennings for the fifth Test at the Oval, Burns’ home ground.
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Two low scores from Jennings, including leaving a ball that swung back in to take out the top of middle stump, further challenged England’s faith in Jennings.

Yet, England’s stubborn persistence in the out-of-form Jennings has meant that Burns is yet to make his Test debut and will be thrown straight into the deep-end come October. Moreover, he will be viewed as the direct replacement to Cook and the nation’s eyes will be fixed on him and will criticize every single mistake he makes. England missed a vital opportunity to ensure Burns acclimatizes to Test cricket by playing him in a low pressure match at his home ground.

So, if Jennings is so badly out of form, is there no one on the county circuit who can vie for his spot? The sad truth is that there isn’t anyone putting his spot in jeopardy.

I asked Joe Root if he had a message for County cricketers, after the controversial selection of Jos Buttler in England’s squad for the Pakistan series. There was a subtle implication to this question, hinting at England’s selection process bypassing the county circuit and looking to the IPL. Joe’s response was that he wanted them to score runs, big runs with the red ball and be averaging over fifty. No one meets that criteria, except Burns.

England’s county system seems to be producing waves of all-rounders but few specialist batsmen. This is the way cricket is moving. All-rounders are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity, especially in white ball cricket. Its effects are now damaging English cricket and could pose serious problems a few years down the line. One thing is for certain: “The Hundred” will not help at all.

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