So, for this specific tour and in these specific circumstances, there was some logic in his inclusion. And the selectors deserve credit for seeing it. This was Jennings third Test in Asia and he has scores of 112, 54 and 146 not out among them.
But a couple of generations of former England batsmen – the likes of Tim Robinson (who averaged 66 after 10 Tests), Alan Butcher (who scored 22,000 first-class runs and won one Test cap), Alan Jones (who made 1000 runs in a season 23 times in succession without winning a Test cap), Hugh Morris (who played two of his this three Tests against a West Indies side containing Marshall, Ambrose, Patterson and Walsh), Kim Barnett (player of the match in his only ODI), Graeme Fowler (final three Test innings: 201, 1 and 69) – could be forgiven for wondering what they might have achieved had they been shown such confidence and support. Jennings knew he was a little fortunate to win this opportunity.
There was little fortunate about this innings, though. While he survived one leg-before shout on 58 that would have been out had Sri Lanka called for a review, he generally looked admirably solid. Putting to one side the aggression that characterised the batting of England’s top-order in the first-innings, he settled for crease occupation and the unhurried accumulation that befits a side starting their second innings on the second day of a Test.
There were 59 singles and just six boundaries in his century and, while he did not come down the pitch to the spinners until he had reached three figures, he swept (both reverse and conventionally) with such assurance that it appeared it was sometimes used as a defensive ploy and played irrespective of the field.
Some caution is required, though. There may be several openers in the county game – the likes of Sam Robson (who looks a fine player of spin), Adam Lyth, Stoneman, et al – who would make a century every 10 games or so if given the opportunity. This innings, admirable though it was, does not signal Jennings’ arrival as a Test player. No, the players who can sustain a career at this level, have to produce runs with some degree of consistency.
This was a large step forward for Jennings, but he has played 10 Tests in England, not made a half-century and averaged 17.72. Like the sombrero bought in Mexico or the kaftan worn on holiday in the Middle East, what works abroad doesn’t always sit so comfortably at home. England won’t play three spinners at home; it’s possible they won’t play Jennings, either.
“This is just a starting point,” he acknowledged. “You have to make sure you do it over and over again. Look at Alastair Cook: he scored 33 Test hundreds and played 161 matches yet there were still doubts about his place at times.
“I’ve got to make sure I put it this in context, come out again tomorrow and continue to try and get better. It’s been a tough 18 months, but I sit here tonight really proud.”