Test Match Sofa
South African Jennings has England Test ambitions
By Tim Wellock
Durham new boy Keaton Jennings has captained South Africa Under 19s, but is in no doubt that he wants to play Test cricket for England.
There is a North-East connection in that his mother was born in Sunderland, but 20-year-old Keaton says his main reason for pursuing a first-class career in this country is opportunity.
“I’m all for fairness and I believe English cricketers are given a fair opportunity,” he said. “I talked it over with my dad and we decided it would be best for me to be here.”
Ray Jennings, Keaton's father, was South Africa’s first-choice wicketkeeper for a decade during their years of isolation, when his appearances were limited to matches against rebel touring teams. He went on to coach the national team and now coaches the Under 19s.
Jennings junior stresses: “Dad has always pushed for what he feels is best for me. He wants me to do whatever will make me happy and help me achieve my goals. I would like to play at the highest level possible. The pinnacle for me at the moment is county cricket, but if I could wear the Three Lions that would be brilliant.”
He was obliged to state such sentiments in front of an ECB panel before being cleared to play first-class cricket in England and he will have to spend 210 days a year in this country.
“I was in the nets two days after the ECB interview when Paul Collingwood came over and told me everything was approved,” he said. “It was awesome to hear it from a guy who has achieved so much and to know I would be sharing a dressing room with him.
“When I made my debut against Surrey it was unbelievable standing there on the first morning and when I received my cap it was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
After a season and a half in Durham’s second team, for whom he scored two double centuries, Jennings batted at No 3 on his senior debut, scoring 23 before being run out by a brilliant piece of fielding by fellow South African Zander de Bruyn.
“I’ve known Zander since I was about seven,” he said. “He played for Easterns when my dad coached them and my gran cut down some kit for me so I could run on with the drinks. I used to clean their boots and looked up to guys like him as role models.
“Zander moved a lot quicker than I expected when he ran me out. His stop was unbelievable and I didn’t react sharply enough, but it was a lesson for me to learn in stepping up to first-class level.”
Jennings is a 6ft 3in left-handed batsman who also bowls right arm medium pace. He has bowled quite a lot for the second team and for Stockton, the club he has played for this season, but feels he has some work to do to get his bowling up to first-class standard.
“I’d like to be an all-rounder and dad has encouraged me in that,” he said. “When you see someone like Ben Stokes he always has a part to play. Even if he has nicked one early in his innings he can still influence a game. It was tough for me last year coming to a new environment, but it’s a very welcoming place and it’s starting to feel more like home.”
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