At the end of every cricket season, once the final ball has been bowled and the last bail lifted off the stumps, players, umpires, journalists and fans alike come together to wish each other luck over the six months of winter to come.
They often do so with the use of the term “winter well”, and there is little doubt that it would have been a pleasantry said to Keaton Jennings as he prepared to embark on England’s tours of Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
However, for Jennings, he did anything but “winter well” as a period that started so well for him as he scored a century in the first test in Sri Lanka, ended with his international hopes hanging by a thread.
His time in the Caribbean proved to be a fateful one, the Lancashire batsmen scoring just 62 runs as England fell to a humiliating defeat.
“It was a tough winter. From a personal point of view it was not particularly enjoyable and obviously I have had to come away from it and work really hard,” said Jennings about his tumultuous last six months.
It is of little surprise that Jennings is struggling in the spotlight. Since making his international debut in 2016, his game has constantly come under the microscope.
The opener has a tendency to nick the ball behind, and the former Durham man says that it is not easy to watch his game scrutinised by a number of pundits.
“Mentally the disintegration of seeing yourself on the news, especially when you are not doing well it is difficult to handle,” he said.
“It is as much a challenge as a person because you might restrict your own talents and flow depending on who you listen to.
“I come from a competitive family, and there is an awful lot of pride there. It definitely dents you.”
With all this in mind, Jennings knows he is facing an all mighty battle to keep his England place ahead of the Ashes.
The series does not get underway until August, because of the World Cup, and Jennings is fully aware that only scoring runs for Lancashire will give him any chance of lining up against Mitchell Starc and Co come the first match at Edgbaston.
“I cannot control selection, the only thing I can control is scoring runs for Lancashire and trying to win games of cricket,” Jennings explains when asked about his international prospects.
“The joy is that everything is open and it is weight of runs that is going to get guys opportunities.
“There is no point going to bed and crying yourself to sleep because at the end of the day I have got a job to do. I am paid to open the batting and score runs, that is the reality of it.
“If you stop doing that then you need to find another job, so it is hard when things are not going well and when players have out skilled you.”
Jennings’ hopes may not be helped by the fact that Lancashire are plying their trade in Division Two of the County Championship.
A poor season in 2018 saw the Red Rose relegated and even if he cannot get back into the England XI, Jennings is focused on making sure he helps his county return to the top tier at the first time of asking.
He said: “We need to bounce back and with three sides being promoted this year there is a bigger opportunities for us.
“But we are going to have to play good cricket throughout the year in order to put ourselves in the top three.
“There should no wool pulled over anyone’s eyes. Division Two teams are professional, highly skilled, and everyone wants to win. You ask any player at any of the 18 counties, they want to win three trophies, so we have to be prepared for some tough competition.”
It remains to be seen what the next few months hold for Jennings. You sense that this could be a defining season in his career. If he can get back into the England team and perform, he may well be a mainstay in international cricket for years to come.
However, it may be his last chance saloon, and his final opportunity to get things right.
For England and Jennings’ sake, let’s hope he can.
Tweet: It was a tough winter for @KeatonJennings but he is ready to perform in a big summer for @EnglandCricket and @LancashireCricket. #TheAshes #CountyChamp