KEATON Jennings hasn’t had much luck of late.
A winter in Sri Lanka and the West Indies that began with a dream ton ended as a nightmare and once again the opener is fighting for his life at the top of the England order.
In response, he kicked off his 2019 summer for Lancashire with a solid half century – but his opening partner stole his column inches.
Haseeb Hameed returned to form in glorious style with a century to end his own run of dismal scores that stretched back to 2016.
That winter tour of India saw both Hameed and Jennings make their Test bows and both impress.
Alastair Cook’s replacements looked ready-made, but Jennings’ trials were just starting.
Dropped by the time the Ashes came around Down Under, Jennings earned a recall last year after Mark Stoneman’s struggles.
Runs were not forthcoming for the Lancashire ace in his second chance, either, his propensity to nick off was much publicised and scrutinised. He was dropped again this winter.
Jennings didn’t know if he was coming or going, and when England recalled him for the third and final Test against the West Indies it looked like the last chance saloon.
England were without any other option but he looked like a dead man walking.
“It is tough. I’d be lying to you if I said there aren’t nights when you’re lying in bed bawling your eyes out – because it is hard. You can feel like the world’s on top of you,” he told The Cricket Paper.
“I don’t read about myself anymore. I did two years ago, and I found myself in some pretty bad ways, trying to come up with game plans about how to face guys for hours and hours on end.
“It was tough mentally. I went through a couple of really tough months.”
Still only 26, Jennings has time on his side to come again for England.
Will it be third – or is it fourth – time lucky though? Certainly his weakness outside his off stump needs attention. Just ask James Harris who dismissed him in all too familiar fashion last week for Middlesex.
But Jennings has never been one to shirk hard work – he returned to county cricket after England dropped him the first time and got down to business.
And his support network around him, including father and former South Africa international Ray Jennings, circled the wagons.
“You find ways to get around criticism – you move things out on social media,” he added.
“Why people think that they want to wake up in the morning and abuse people on social media I have no idea, but that’s entirely people’s choice.
“It does take quite a bit of mental resilience. It takes a strong family backing, a strong, happy, loving environment to help you through.
“You can’t handle everything all by yourself, so to have a family behind you is fantastic.
“Mentally, the disintegration of when you’re seeing yourself in the news – especially when you aren’t doing well – is tough to handle.
“It dents you – it definitely does – but I’m extremely lucky that I’ve got an unbelievably supportive family and support structure around me. They shelter me from a lot of things.”
And after a winter that began so well and then finished on such a low, the return of county cricket must feel like a warm embrace for Jennings.
However, there is the small matter of an Ashes spot on the line this summer, and the former Durham opener’s willingness to get back on the horse is almost admirable.
“My desire to play for England is just as strong now as it was when I was a five-year-old wanting to play international cricket.
“It does become a bit of a drug and an adrenaline rush – hearing Jerusalem playing before the first ball is bowled is just absolutely fantastic.
“I’d love to walk out representing my country in a Test match at Old Trafford,” he said.
Speak to anyone in the England camp and they will tell you that Jennings was one of the most popular members of the side, a real team player whom everyone was willing to succeed.
But after a certain while – Jennings averages only 25 after 17 Tests – England must decide whether they must be cruel to be kind.
Not that Jennings is feeling sorry for himself, although his chances are not helped by the Red Rose being in Division Two this summer.
“I want to play cricket at the highest level. With poor performance comes criticism,” he added.
“This is the life I’ve chosen and this is the life I love. It’s highly competitive and it’s highly intense, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The reality of the situation for me in terms of England is I’m not playing in Division One this year, I can’t control that, I can’t control selection.
“But there should be no wool pulled over anyone’s eyes that Division Two doesn’t mean guys are suddenly bowling underarm.
“There are professional teams who are highly skilled and everyone wants to win.”
WILL JENNINGS / Photo: Getty Images