Sri Lanka vs England: Keaton Jennings' sweeping ways continue to reap rich rewards
Jennings' new-found love affair with the sweep shot and its exotic partner, the reverse sweep, doesn’t look like ending soon
For a man so tall and strapping, Keaton Jennings spends a lot of time down on one knee.
The 26-year-old opener isn’t proposing, but he is continuing a new-found love affair with the sweep shot and its exotic partner, the reverse sweep, that doesn’t look like ending soon.
Jennings was called back to the pavilion on 146 by England’s declaration late on the third day at Galle and being a well-mannered young man just thankful to have scored only his second Test century, he was not overly bothered at being stopped just short of another milestone.
But the Lancashire man looked so comfortable against spin that it bears wondering at what total Sri Lanka might eventually have halted him at.
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Jennings’ footwork was impeccable when attacking the ball down the pitch or rocking back to pull or cut but it was the variety of cross-batted shots he played that stood out on a turning surface.
And why wouldn’t he continue to play them? In his Test career, he has never been dismissed playing a sweep, reverse sweep or slog seep and scores at 10 runs per over when playing those shots. That compares to 2.27 runs per over, per cricket analysts CricViz, when he doesn't, but this is not something that Jennings has always had in his box of tricks.
“The first understanding of spin I had was when I went away with the Lions to Dubai in late 2016,” he says, still beaming from his innings and flushed red after featuring in every minute of play under a baking sun.
“I worked quite closely with Andy Flower and Graeme Thorpe. You develop your own sort of style, you develop the way you want to go about it, you develop different shots.
“I suppose I’m going to get slated at some point for playing a stupid reverse sweep but I see it as a big strength of mine. I see it as a shot that, in a way, gets me out of jail. It’s a process of understanding.”
Jennings says that he has always been open to reverse sweep but “not as comfortably.”
“At times on turning surfaces - like day one - when you play on a turning surface you play with a straight bat and you feel like you’re going to nick balls, or get out. I felt like sweeping was less of a risk.”
The numbers would bear out that instinct.
Since he made his debut in the longest form of the game, only one player in world cricket has more runs with the reverse sweep, Sri Lanka’s Niroshan Dickwella, and of England batsmen to have scored north of 250 runs against spin in Test matches, only Thorpe, Jennings’ sweeping mentor, and Joe Root, his skipper, have better averages.
Having a player so adept against the turning ball has been a game-changing selection for England at a ground where they have never previously won.
Sri Lanka must now chase down 462 in their second innings or hope for rain in order to prevent the tourists breaking that historic duck.