Off the back of a Durham Awards night on which he won player of the season, batsman of the year, players’ player of the year, champagne moment of the year and a community award, we chatted with Durham’s prolific Keaton Jennings. 1,548 County Championship runs, seven tons and a Lions tour… not a bad effort.
Right then, how do you explain the season you’ve just had?
I don’t know! It’s been one of those seasons where certain things have worked out. I’ve nicked balls and they’ve gone in areas where fielders haven’t been and it’s been very special from that point of view. It’s just been awesome.
Has everything worked out for you this year, off the pitch as well? Thought about buying a lottery ticket?
No, not at all actually! Scotty Borthwick asked me this question in about mid-June. He asked whether I felt like I was in really good form, or whether I just felt like I was batting well. At the time I struggled to give him an answer but after my next innings I deduced that I was just batting well. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything massively different this season or anything like that, it feels as if I’ve just clicked with certain things. This was the last year of my contract, as well, and coming into the last year of a contract things can go either way. You can really struggle because the pressure of being on your last year – which is completely natural – or you can go the other way. Thankfully it’s gone really nicely for me.
So it’s kind of inexplicable?
Exactly. Certain things have just clicked. I think it’s a combination of being happy outside the game, having that little bit of self-belief and freedom and having the security within myself to trust myself to just play and enjoy the game. I think those things have combined to form a nice little formula for me this year – hopefully I’ll try and keep a dosage of it for next season!
Did you do anything differently before the season?
No, over the last two or three winters I’ve pretty much done the same thing. I’ve headed back to South Africa to take exams for my Accountancy degree in October/November, I’ve been in the gym from that point on, started hitting cricket balls in mid-December, and headed back to Durham for the beginning of March. So nothing’s been massively different from the plan that I’ve had. I suppose last winter I did sit down with my dad and my uncle and talk through a different mental process, with regards to being a little more happy outside of the game, and finding my feet as a person. Every season can’t be like this, but I’d love to try and replicate how I’ve felt and how I’ve gone about things for the next 15-20 years of my career.
Does this Accountancy degree mean you’re all over your numbers?
I wouldn’t say I’m all over my numbers! The business side of things has always interested me. Ever since I was 15/16 and I had to choose subjects at school business and accountancy has always interested me. It wouldn’t be my ideal job to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers for 40 years but the managerial side of things – making decisions on numbers and books – has really interested me. Hopefully I can finish my degree next year – and then hopefully I won’t need it! – but maybe one day I can follow in the footsteps of someone like David Leatherdale. He became CEO at Worcestershire and is now the chief executive at the PCA. His career path is something of interest to me. It’s good to have a role-model, I haven’t chatted to him a whole heap, but knowing that it’s been done before means it’s achievable again.
Given how well it’s gone, you must have been disappointed not to be included in the Test squad for Bangladesh?
Yes and no. It was one of those situations. I had a sit-down with my uncle, who’s a sports psychologist, just before the Test squad was announced and he said: ‘If somebody said to you before this season, you’ll score 1,500 runs, would you have taken it?’ And of course I would – I would have chopped your arm off for it! I think my family and the people around me are probably more disappointed than me. Good luck to Has and Ben, it’s an awesome place to make your debut. It’s a hard, lovely, tough challenge to make your debut in – it will be awesome. I wondered whether it would affect me, but deep down, it didn’t. It’s been an awesome couple of months.
Were you confident that, had you been picked, you could succeed at Test level?
I suppose that to think like that would take away from what I’ve done so well this year. I’ve just focused on being stable and enjoying every moment. When you start looking ahead too much – or looking back – that anxiousness and change in emotion creates a different feeling in you. It would have taken a bit of work on his part – and my dad’s – to stop me looking ahead too much if I had been picked but I like to think that I wouldn’t! Naturally being picked to make your debut tour would give you a boost of confidence, but it’s not to be. Someday it may happen, but if it is doesn’t then it doesn’t. That’s the way it goes. The big guy upstairs has got a plan for everyone, and clearly his plan wasn’t for me to go to Bangladesh.
You were picked to tour with the Lions. How excited are you about that?
Ah, massively excited. We go to Dubai in the middle of November for three or four weeks, it will be phenomenal. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and meeting a lot of the guys for the first time. You play against the guys on the circuit but you don’t really know who they are or what they’re about so getting to know them is really exciting. Hopefully it will be a productive few weeks but the next couple of weeks before I go will be a little bit manic. I head back to South Africa on the 30th, I land on the 1st and I’ve got an exam on the 3rd. Then I’ve got two more exams on the 10th and then – because of the Lions tour – I’m trying to reschedule some which are for the end of November. It’s a little bit hectic but that’s the way it is – it’s like the county season, it’s high speed and you’ve just got to get your head down and get on with it!
How would you describe your game to people who haven’t seen you?
A lot of my runs come through backward point, I just kind of crab about and get what I can! I’ve always tried to stick my hand up when things haven’t gone our way, maybe it’s a tough surface or a tough time, and I just battle away. We’ve got a little saying at Durham, keep jabbing, which is just about staying in the fight and I want to be tough to get out. I learned that watching a guy like Pierre de Bruyn – who’s now head coach at Leicester. I spent a lot of time in the Easterns changing room when my father was coach and he was a real Staffy – a real hard guy to get out. He never backed down from a challenge. I grew up watching guys like him and that’s what I try to replicate.
You mention the importance of staying in the fight up at Durham. It’s been a tough season this year off the field – especially given that Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick have decided to move on – has the adversity made you fight even harder for each other?
I wouldn’t say it’s kept us fighting a bit harder, I would say that it’s given us the chance to play for each other one more time. The guys here are brilliant when it comes to a backs-to-the wall situation; we’ve fought our way out of a lot of positions over the years. It’s a phenomenal group of guys who play for each other. What the guys did at Southport a couple of weeks ago when we played against Lancashire was superb. We played cricket with the two local lads for half an hour. That kind of team spirit is something that you can’t buy so to see two great blokes in Rocky and Badge move on is really sad. But it gives two other guys a chance to come in and try to make a career for themselves.
How sad are you to see them leave?
Yeah, it’s tough. Rocky’s been an older brother to me. There have been times when he’s thrown balls at me for endless hours, coached me and helped me through some tough times. To see a guy who I’ve really respected, both on and off the pitch, leave the changing room is hard and it will continue to be hard. It’s a fantastic new challenge for him and Badge and I think they can achieve all the goals they want to achieve down there. Who knows, in three or four years hopefully they can come back to Durham. You never really know what the future holds. I wish them all the best.