England invest faith in Keaton Jennings……

After a disheartening campaign at Lord’s, where England lost the encounter by a whopping margin of nine wickets, they have all their hopes pinned to Leeds. Pakistan have gained an unassailable 1-0 lead in the two-match series and the onus of making a comeback and squaring the series is now on England. They have failed to click as a unit in the recent times and looked short of confidence in whites. This was their sixth defeat in last eight games including two draws and need a move on.

England’s batting looks a bit vulnerable, especially the opening slot. In order to counter-attack it, England have made one change in their line-up for the final encounter at Headingley. Keaton Jennings has been drafted in the side while Mark Stoneman has been dropped following a prolongation of poor form.

England have struggled for a very long time now with their openers, they have not managed to get a decent start against the new ball. Alastair Cook got an emphatic start and top-scored in the first innings with 70 runs to his name while Stoneman failed to reach double figures in both the innings. Pakistani bowlers got the better of him very cheaply in both the innings.

First and foremost, Stoneman was fortunate enough to find a place in the squad against Pakistan after a terrible start this season for Surrey, where he looked bereft of oomph. Stoneman has scored five fifties in his 11 Test appearances with the highest score of 60; he did get good starts but failed to convert it into substantial scores. He looked in good touch in New Zealand, which probably earned selectors faith and ignored his poor form in the County. But the axe was always looming over him and his dismal show at Lord’s just triggered his exclusion.

Keaton Jennings, on the other hand, embraced Test cricket on a high by scoring a ton against India in Mumbai. He raised high hopes and promised to provide a long term solution to England’s opening woes. But it wasn’t to be, a series of low scores after an emphatic start saw him being dropped from the side. He last played a Test against South Africa last year at Manchester.

Jennings earned a recall on the back of some magnificent performances in County cricket. In fact, he has been one of the very few batsmen in the domestic circuit, who have managed to score ample of runs. He moved from Durham to Lancashire and has scored two centuries for his side. Jennings averaged 44.85 in the County Championship, scoring 314 runs. He has also managed to replicate his scintillating form in the Royal London Cup, averaging a staggering 76.50 with 306 runs including a ton.

National selector spoke about Jennings’ temperament and Stoneman’s poor form. He was quoted in a report from ESPNCricinfo saying, “Keaton Jennings showed a strong temperament in scoring a hundred on his Test match debut against India in December 2016. Keaton has found good form in county cricket this season, including three centuries in his last seven innings. Mark Stoneman misses out at Headingley. Mark has experienced a disappointing start to the 2018 season and had a difficult Test match at Lord’s”

Jennings has shown enough promise in the domestic circuit, but will he be able to replicate his form at Leeds? He didn’t have a great time against South Africa at home either and it will be interesting to see how he fares this time. England are in a desperate need of a win and need their openers to fire, with Cook showing good signs with the bat, Jennings needs to step and accompany him at the top. Will he justify his selection or not, only time will tell. But by looking at the kind of form he is in right now, one can anticipate him to do well against the pumped Pakistani attack.

Opening batting against the new red cherry is by far one of the toughest jobs in Test cricket, it requires a different skill set. The early kill of England’s top-order has exposed the middle too early and need to pull up on that front. Should England have given Stoneman another go? It remains an open debate, but his struggle was for real. Will England bounce back? Will they break their losing streak? Will their openers fire? Too many questions, too less answer. But they certainly have a mountain to climb at Headingley.

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