In his first Sky Sports column, England opener Keaton Jennings looks ahead to the first Test against Windies and details the work that goes into taking those stunning short-leg catches!
We’ve been in the Caribbean for a week now and it’s been brilliant. When you tour to a place like Barbados there’s quite a lot to do off the field so with a couple of free mornings or afternoons, the guys have made full value of it and been to the beach, enjoyed the local life, snorkelling out to the reef and really enjoying what Barbados has to offer.
Time away from the game keeps you fresh and in a place where you are raring to go and really excited to get back and play.
When you’re at home, after a Test match you try and get away from cricket for a couple of days and it’s exactly the same when you’re on tour, even more so here because in a hotel you’re seeing your work colleagues every day at breakfast, dinner, every moment of the day so to get away from that cricket bubble at times is really important.
On the pitch, the day after we arrived we had a good hard training session and then we had the afternoon off. Since then we’ve had six days on the bounce working hard, including two warm-up games, so the bodies were a bit sore over the weekend, but it was really good to get those miles in the legs.
With the warm-up games, the first batting day was good fun and then we bowled on the second day and the guys were brilliant with the ball, I think we took 19 wickets. The next two days, the bodies were trying to get that stiffness out but again, the guys were brilliant.
Bluey (Jonny Bairstow) batted really nicely then we bowled really well again. Hopefully that sort of momentum and the miles in the legs will hold us in good stead come Wednesday.
From a personal point of view I felt good, my movements were good. Two knocks is not enough to judge a person on but obviously on a tour, you want to make an impact straightaway. Sometimes it just doesn’t work like that.
Regardless of whether you get 100, 200 or 10, though, that feeling that you are playing well and that your movements are good is the best thing. The whole point of warm-up games is to build fitness and get guys feeling happy and confident moving into the first Test.
So having not got any big scores it is just a matter of calling on past experiences, past processes to make sure that I’m in the best place mentally and physically when the first ball comes down.
As an opener you always feel like you’re trying to cement your place in the team and stake your claim. Even towards the back end of Cooky’s career, there were people doubting his position which was very unfair.
I opened with Burnsy in Sri Lanka and he is a lovely lad. Hopefully over the next five to 10 years we can make a really good partnership at the top of the order.
I’ve enjoyed playing with him and enjoyed time off the field with him which is really good because you don’t always enjoy people away from cricket.
But one thing that this squad has is that everybody is actually a really good person, from management to players there is no one in the squad that you don’t want to spend time with so it’s a really happy environment to be able to get along with everyone.
We’re using a Dukes ball in this series and it seems to have swung for a lot longer and stayed harder for a lot longer compared to the Kookaburra, so whether that makes a massive difference, I’m not sure.
There is obviously a lot of talk around the pitch and one day you hear it’s going to be quick and pacey and then next it’s going to be a turning surface. But regardless of what pitch is teed up, I’d like to think we’ve got enough resources – whether it is our fast bowlers or our three spinners – to take 20 wickets and put ourselves in a position where we can win the Test and go 1-0 up.
Obviously, if it spins then hopefully I’ll be in the game at short leg as well. I’ve been in there for quite a while now. When I started at Durham I was the youngest batter and ended up in there through a bit of keenness and some stupidity at times as well!
At the start of the Sri Lanka tour, Paul Collingwood did a lot of work with myself, Burnsy and Ollie Pope. He stuck a front pad on and then went about nicking balls into his pad, then hitting a few at you.
We did probably 45 minutes to an hour within a training session to get used to the squatting position, how the ball is going nick off the bat and then you just train. You do one-handed catching, close stuff, really intense and quick and then you go back to a more realistic distance – there are a combination of different drills.
I wouldn’t say it is tougher for me because I’m taller but generally your short-leg catches are low to the ground, ankle height, so stereotypically shorter guys are going to be more nimble around that area and they are just closer to it.
Being 6ft4in and 90-odd kilos you aren’t maybe expected to be good at taking those catches around your ankles and being in that squat position for a long period of time. It takes a bit of conditioning in the gym and then just some time out there getting used to it.
Burnsy was in there at the start in Sri Lanka but then it was decided that I would don the helmet and go in. There have been some really special memories for me in there, having taken a couple of catches and also palmed one off to Foakesy. After the next 10 or 15 years of my career those are moments I can look back on and cherish.
It also takes the pressure off the batting side of things when you feel you’re contributing elsewhere. That’s something that Rooty has been very good with, the guys just want to contribute. Whether it’s getting a hundred to put the guys in a good position, a good catch or bowling a really good spell, the guys just really want to contribute towards the team winning and towards the team drive.
If you take that catch or you bowl a really good spell, it does settle guys down because if you feel that value within the team and that you are making a difference, naturally you will relax into that.
So to take a few catches in Sri Lanka was really good fun, it was an amazing experience and hopefully as a team we can come away from this series having had another really good couple of weeks.
Watch England’s tour of the Caribbean live on Sky Sports this winter, starting with the first Test in Barbados from 1pm on Wednesday.