Ed Smith defends the selection of Keaton Jennings for Sri Lanka tour

Ed Smith has defended the selection of struggling opener Keaton Jennings for the Test tour of Sri Lanka as England prepare for life after Alastair Cook.
Rory Burns of Surrey and Joe Denly, the 32-year-old Kent batsman who bowls part-time leg-breaks, are the other potential openers in a 16-man squad whose batting experience is stacked heavily in the middle order.
And, on a trip where spin bowling is expected to play a crucial role, the selectors have found room for six seamers, with Smith stressing that both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were both 'very keen to play and be part of the tour party'.
Warwickshire fast bowler Olly Stone is there too, having been named earlier in the week in England's squad for the one-day internationals that precede the three Tests. Meanwhile, Surrey's 20-year-old batsman Ollie Pope, dropped after two Tests against India, and Somerset slow left-armer Jack Leach are both recalled.
But it is the choice of Jennings, who averaged just 18 during the 4-1 win over India, that will raise eyebrows, leaving national selector Smith to justify his presence.
'Going into the Oval Test, if you take England, Pakistan and India together, the opening batsmen averaged 20, which is what Keaton was,' he said. 'He conforms to that average. That is how difficult it was.
'Cook did not find opening the batting in 2018 easy. Murali Vijay is a very accomplished Test player, and he watched the last three games on television.
'Keaton has a Test hundred in Mumbai, when the ball spun dramatically, so he can take confidence from that. Also, going through tough times in international sport can put you in good stead.'
Others may conclude that Jennings is extremely fortunate. After all, the combined average of 20 cited by Smith ignores events in the fifth Test at The Oval, where Cook made 71 and 147, and Indian opener KL Rahul 149.
In plumb conditions, Jennings made just 23 and 10, and in the first innings carelessly tickled spinner Ravindra Jadeja straight to leg slip - a dismissal that will have been noted by Sri Lanka's slow bowlers.
The selection of Burns has been on the cards for some time after another productive summer in which he has scored more Championship runs - 1,319 - than anyone in the country while captaining Surrey to their first title since 2002. 
Denly has been mentioned by Smith, an old team-mate at Kent, more than once this summer, not least because of his improving leg-spin. Though with Moeen Ali set to remain at No 3, Denly - who played the last of his 14 white-ball internationals in 2010 - may struggle to get a game. 
'Joe has evolved into this calm, measured performer, but that touch of class is still there and is in his DNA,' said Smith.
James Vince was discussed as another top-order option, but Smith refused to say whether Jason Roy had been considered.
With a middle order of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler picking itself, interest will focus on the first-choice make-up of Nos 8-11. On Sri Lanka's turning pitches, both Adil Rashid and Leach can expect to play, and there seems little prospect of England leaving out Anderson.
That would leave Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Broad fighting it out for the last spot - with Curran flavour of the month after his all-round performances against India.
'It seemed to me that Broad and Anderson were in the squad for every Test match this summer,' said Smith, 'and they seem well-placed to be in the squads for the winter.
'They wanted to play, and we wanted access to their experience and skill, so that is why we have picked them in the squad.' 

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