Keaton Jennings hails development of young talent as Lancashire eye final product

Hundred players won't be involved with Lancashire sticking by core from group stage

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
Keaton Jennings of Lancashire bats during the Royal London Cup between Lancashire Lightning and Derbyshire at Emirates Old Trafford on August 07, 2022 in Manchester, England

Keaton Jennings will lead Lancashire out at Trent Bridge  •  Getty Images

It probably reveals something about the skewed priorities currently afflicting English cricket that the ECB's designation of the Royal London Cup as "a development competition" was generally regarded as a downgrading, if not a plain admission of second-class status. What other sport would look down on the process of helping young players refine their skills?
But of course, the media, whether established, social or anti-social, followed their leader. The 2021 Royal London would be a "second-team" competition and no one would watch the matches.
Then the cricket got under way and supporters of the 18 counties began to turn up in decent numbers. Nothing to rival the Hundred, of course, but many members were more interested in seeing their youngsters for the first time than in watching well-known names play an unloved format for teams with which they could not identify. The result was that last season's Royal London was something of an unexpected success and Glamorgan's victory in the final, which was achieved without their Hundred players, was widely welcomed. This year's competition has achieved something similar - matches at outgrounds have been especially popular - so much so that anyone wanting to play the group matches at the start of next season should consider what will be lost in terms of spectacle and opportunity.
Certainly Keaton Jennings, who will lead Lancashire in Saturday's final at Trent Bridge, has enjoyed both his fresh responsibilities and the company of players for whom every game is still a journey into a new world.
"I've loved the captaincy, it's been good fun and it would be lovely if we could bring home some silverware," he said. "I've spoken to the younger players as a group and we've talked about somebody sticking their hand up to win a game. And when you look at our record this season, someone has generally done that, whether it was George Lavelle with that unbeaten 61 against Northamptonshire at Blackpool or George Balderson taking two vital wickets at Hove.
"You can be critical of the way George Lavelle has got out at times but the way he has played has changed the momentum of games. Our young players are changing the direction of matches, not always with centuries or with five-wicket returns, but with vital contributions nevertheless. That exposure has been absolutely brilliant for them and there will soon come a first-class game, maybe a Roses match, in which that exposure will help them."
Many of the young Lancastrians got their opportunities because several players - Phil Salt, Luke Wood, Richard Gleeson, Liam Livingstone, Tom Hartley, Matt Parkinson - were playing in the Hundred. However, none of the newly disenfranchised six will play against Kent, although three of them are with England anyway and Livingstone is injured. But Lancashire's coaching staff also had to be changed when Glen Chapple and Carl Crowe were seconded to the Manchester Originals. Graham Onions, Karl Krikken and Craig White all took on new roles and will also be involved at Nottingham.
"He is really a disruptive technology because his skills are just as applicable to these times as they were to the last years of the 20th century. To watch him go about his business with such pleasure is amazing"
Keaton Jennings on Darren Stevens
Other faces will be more familiar to Jennings, most notably, perhaps, Luke Wells, whose century in the second innings of the Roses match was a perfect example of what happens when a T20 mentality is grafted on to the pure technique of an intelligent cricketer. Wells' 124 off 82 balls included 11 fours and half a dozen sixes, three of the latter being struck in the fourth, sixth and seventh overs of the innings off Ben Coad and Jordan Thompson. A repeat against Kent would do Wells' skipper very well indeed but his century was really only the latest manifestation of the change in the batting allrounder's cricket since he left Sussex in 2020. And Jennings' enjoyment of the innings was enhanced by the fact that he was sitting on his bat 22 yards away watching the show.
"I haven't seen a first-class innings like that for a long time," Jennings said. "It was controlled, it was calculated and it was executed beautifully. Luke just said 'I'm just going to play and I'll see what happens.' My role was to face as few balls as possible and get him on strike.
"Luke was already a good player at Sussex and now he's a really good player who has gone from strength to strength. The change has been good in that he's challenged himself to be the best he can be very single day. You can see in his gym work that he's different gravy to what he was two or three seasons ago and he's maybe added a few years onto his career."
But another player who has added something like a decade onto his career - and, if he is to be believed, isn't finished yet - will be strolling out for Kent having already ensured that Lancashire are being viewed as the red meanies in this year's Royal London Cup. Perhaps 90% of those watching the final will be hoping 46-year-old Darren Stevens ends up on the winning side, and were the circumstances different, you get the feeling that Jennings would be amongst them.
"I've played against Stevo quite a bit and he's got me out quite a few times as well," he said. "For me, his biggest attribute is his ability to change over time and adapt his skillset to learn, grow and get better. He's done that over three generations of cricketers across a 25-year career and that shows a level of skill, a hunger and a drive to get better.
"He's really a disruptive technology because his skills are just as applicable to these times as they were to the last years of the 20th century. To watch a guy go about his business with such pleasure is amazing."

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications