Keaton Jennings has been given a job as Durham’s 50-over firefighter.
Until recently overlooked for all limited-overs cricket, the 22-year-old will take on a key role in today’s Royal London Cup match against Warwickshire.
The South African will be used to shore up the innings when wickets fall in a cluster. Given that bad starts have been a feature of Durham’s limited-overs cricket this season, he could be very prominent.
Coach Jon Lewis has hinted he could also be asked to bowl at crucial points of the opposition innings. It is some turnaround for a player who until a couple of weeks ago had never played white-ball cricket for the county.
“He’s quite an impressive young man,” said Lewis ahead of today’s game, Durham’s first competitive senior match at Newcastle’s South Northumberland ground. “When he played second-team cricket he was trying to force his way into the side in all forms as an opener.
“I said to him about a year ago his best bet would be to get his bowling up to a level where he didn’t have to rely on his batting to force his way in.
“Initially he got into the Twenty20 side as a lower-order guy who bowled us a few overs.
“In 50 overs you try to be quite settled and we can use him to try and steady the ship because he’s good at forming partnerships.
“He works well with other batsmen, and he’s a particularly good foil to the more attractive, boundary-hitting batsmen.”
Jennings made his Twenty20 debut for Durham on June 7, his first limited-overs appearance for them despite having been a four-day regular since early last season. He played four times in the competition.
The reasons were obvious and understandable. Jennings is a four-day anchorman, not a flair player.
In a pleasing contrast to his more free-flowing opening partner Mark Stoneman, Jennings scores his First-Class runs at 40 per 100 balls. That would be no use in the shorter forms of the game, but he has already demonstrated his adaptability.
At Somerset, in Durham’s opening match in the new-look Royal London Cup, he came in at six and put on 103 with Paul Collingwood. Jennings’ contribution was 45 from 43 balls. At Kent on Tuesday he was held back until nine and scored 26 not out from 16 balls.
“We got off to a bad start at Taunton so we told him to get his pads on and he came in at six,” Lewis explained.
“He didn’t really take a huge number of risks but he still managed to score at more than a run-a-ball, and contributed a good partnership with Paul.
“Because he’s got such a good cricket brain he’s very adaptable in different situations. He’s also shown in practice he can be quite dangerous at the end of an innings.
“He’s increased his shot range quite a lot this year and, although you don’t really associate him with that side of the game, he’s always hit the ball with a lot of power. That could come into his game even more, but he’s an opening batsman in terms of his mindset.”
In Twenty20 cricket Jennings played primarily as a medium-pace bowler, and that aspect of his game will be better utilised than it is in the County Championship.
“He made his 50-over debut for us against Sri Lanka A (early this month) as a like-for-like replacement for Colly (Collingwood) and he could probably bowl towards the end of an innings,” Lewis noted.
“I was very impressed with his bowling against Lancashire in the t20. He was excellent doing a really tough job against some really good boundary-strikers. He only went for one boundary off his 12 balls, which was excellent.
“He’s got the nerve to bowl at the end. It didn’t go well for him at Taunton, but it didn’t go well for many bowlers there.”
Durham squad: Stoneman, Mustard, MacLeod, Stokes, Richardson, Borthwick, Muchall, Collingwood, Breese, Jennings, Hastings, Onions, Rushworth.