Keaton Jennings, the England opener, is not fussed about the possibility of facing his fellow South Africans in a Test series next July, he told The Times on Sunday.
Jennings, 24, son of Ray Jennings, the former South Africa coach, added that should he be selected, he was prepared for a lot of attention.
Barring a drop in form for his county Durham – who have been relegated to the second tier after being bailed out by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – he should be selected after making a century on his debut in the recent fourth Test against India and a half-century in the fifth and final Test.
His performances were a rare highlight in the series, which England lost 4-0 and cast doubt on whether his opening partner Alastair Cook would remain captain.
Jennings said, “I don’t think it will feel weird playing against South Africa, but I know that the intensity around that will be heightened.” He will probably also face some old teammates from the Gauteng Province side, for whom he played in 2011 and in the same year skippered the South Africa Under-19 side on a tour of England.
He added, “There will be all the chat again about my nationality. And if I do play, I will have to make sure I handle that and be calm, settled and focused.”
Jennings, who is playing for his ‘home county’ as his mother hails from Sunderland in north-east England, said he was prepared to drop down the order should his services not be required to open.
“I’d be happy to bat at No. 10 and be a fielder,” said Jennings, who will lead the England Lions squad on their tour of Sri Lanka next month. “Just to have the opportunity to play Test cricket, whether I’m playing in my preferred role or something slightly out of the norm. If the opportunity is there in July to bat at No. 3 and that is what (England coach) Trevor Bayliss or Cook want me to do, then I will bite their hand off.”
Jennings, who qualified for England through the old four-year residency rule, admitted he had been taken aback by some of the reaction to his agreeing to represent England and not South Africa.
England Opener added, “I think social media gives people an opportunity to voice opinions that I don’t really want to read. Social media is great but people voice their opinions in the wrong way sometimes. There was a backlash to my background, but mostly I have had a lot of support.”
Jennings protests that it is not South Africa that he considers home, but Durham. He said, “South Africa isn’t home any more actually. My mum and dad said the other day about me ‘going back to the UK’ and I corrected them. ‘No. I am going home, that’s my home,’ I said.”
He lastly said, “The north-east of England is where I have bought property and where my local pub is and I have my usual order in the local pub and I know my way around. When I come back to South Africa now, I drive round using GPS because I don’t know my way.”