Parthiv Patel was in the middle of a dream comeback knock in the second innings of the Mohali Test. His aggressive knock had England on the mat. And it had put India on track to make a mockery of the modest England total.
None of the English bowlers had been spared Patel’s onslaught. He had launched a long hop from Adil Rashid to the fence to take India even closer to victory. The result was now a foregone conclusion. The match now held little consequence.
But yet, Alastair Cook stood there with Rashid, at the end of the bowler’s run-up. Hands were waved. Points on the pitch where the England captain wanted Rashid to bowl were made clear to the leg-spinner. For a man who rarely emotes, Cook was at his animated best. For a man who rarely cracks under pressure, the fissures in his demeanour threatened to come to the fore. It was concealed panic.
India’s 2-0 lead was inevitable. But with it, questions on the English Test side and the future of Cook as its leader were inevitable too.
A nightmare come true
England had outplayed South Africa in South Africa at the start of the year. They had brushed off a mediocre Sri Lankan outfit to kick-start the summer at home. But post it, Cook & Co could only draw the series against Pakistan at home. Yet, the worst was still to come. It came when they caved in to hand Bangladesh a surprise victory in Dhaka.
But England had been the best tourists to India in the last decade. They believed this would be their shot at redemption. And when they made India chase the draw in Rajkot, their belief strengthened. However, expectedly, Visakhapatnam and Mohali offered more turn and the Indians were once again lions in their own den.
But 0-2 is not the problem for England, or for Cook. Nor is it the possibility of 0-4 that haunts them. The 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed had been one of the few bright spots with the bat over the last two Tests. But apart from injuries to Zafar Ansari, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad, a broken finger ended Hameed’s tour. It piled on Cook’s misery. It darkened England’s nightmare.
Jennings on a rescue mission
The 24-year-old Keaton Jennings has been drafted in as Hameed’s replacement ahead of the Mumbai Test. Son of the former South Africa wicket-keeper, Ray Jennings, the Durham batsman topped he run charts in the 2016 County Championship. And thanks to his father’s stint as a coach with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League, he has had a taste of India.
But playing cricket, that too in its purest form, is a feeling too good to be true for the youngster. “It was a lot to take in, and very exciting. And then telling my family and the guys at Durham has been pretty emotional. I need to have a coffee, get my head around everything that’s happened,” expressed the former South Africa Under-19 cricketer.
Once Jennings has dealt with the emotions, he will realise that he carries the nation’s hope. It is him who will also carry along a sense of déjà vu for his captain.
A sense of déjà vu
More than a decade ago, in 2006, the then England captain, Michael Vaughan suffered a knee injury ahead of the Test series in India. While, their opener Marcus Trescothick decided to head home because of personal stress issues.
In Vaughan and Trescothick, England had lost two openers. They were without a partner for Andrew Strauss.
On this tour, England have lost Hameed to injury and Ben Duckett to form. The development left Cook stranded at the top, before Jennings was included in the touring party.
Back in 2006, it was Cook himself who was handed a SOS call to come salvage the situation.
Cook was on tour with the England A team in the Caribbean. He may have been more than half a world away, but he arrived with runs under his belt – he had scored a century in Antigua two weeks prior to his Test debut.
Cook is now the captain. And coincidentally, with the shadows lengthening over his tenure at the helm, Jennings will jet in from the United Arab Emirates.
Like Cook ten years ago, Jennings will fly in from another country as a replacement for an injured player. In a similar scenario, he too is on tour with the England Lions – where he is leading the team. And a left-handed batsman like his national captain, Jennings will touch Indian soil with runs to his credit – he notched up a ton against UAE in Dubai on Thursday to celebrate his inclusion in the senior team.
Jennings hit the three-figure mark just a week before his expected debut at the Wankhede. Cook had done so a couple of weeks prior to his first game in Nagpur. Yet, Cook went on to score a 60 and an unbeaten 104 in his first appearance in the English whites.
If England field Jennings over Duckett, who has displayed woeful form thus far, they will hope for an encore from Jennings. Cook will pray for him to come off. Because England and Cook are desperate to triumph in Mumbai and take the series to Chennai. And there is little better than a flurry of runs at the top.
Cook’s crown as the leader of the Test team, thus, depends on Jennings - a lad expected to come up with a performance on par with Cook from a decade ago.
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