Saturday, 3 December 2016, 06:00pm
England's prospective opening pair for fourth Test prepare to join forces
Captain Alastair Cook, about to lead his country for the 58th time in Tests, will report back for duty in Mumbai - after a short mid-series break in Dubai - with time short to establish an effective working relationship with the uncapped Keaton Jennings, set to become his 11th new opening partner in the last four years.
The latter has had just two white-ball innings with England Lions, since his breakthrough summer with Durham, in which to attune himself to the demands of replacing the injured Haseeb Hameed.
Cook's position - as captain rather than opener - remains a hot topic as conjecture persists as to whether the strains of this tough tour may yet lead him to consider whether he wants to extend his role further into record territory.
Lions coach Andy Flower has known Cook for more than a decade, since England's all-time most prolific Test runscorer, first began to make his name at Essex - before the pair undertook four successive Ashes series together.
Jennings is a more recent acquaintance, but Flower has seen enough of him too to voice a favourable opinion.
Speaking before making the South Africa-born batsman captain on his Lions debut last week, Flower said: "He is highly motivated .. he looks a smart young man."
Jennings' methods at the crease also made a good impression on the former England coach.
Flower added: "He looks like he's got a really solid and, crucially, simple technical game. T hat stands a batsman in good stead.
"The less complicated it is, the less can go wrong."
Jennings hit two unbeaten double-hundreds among his near 1600 Specsavers County Championship runs for Durham this year.
Flower said: "He's obviously got some of the mental attributes of building big innings....s o he's got a lot going for him."
He remains a dedicated advocate of Cook too, of course, having seen for so long at close quarters what makes the England captain tick - and is convinced, even if Cook were to step aside from the captaincy, he would remain a fixture at the top of the order.
"If he gave it up fairly soon, he would definitely carry on playing - without a doubt," he said.
"He's still hungry to play a lot of international cricket, I think."
Speaking last month at the start of the Lions' winter programme in Loughborough, Flower gave an insight into what has made Cook so successful and well-regarded by his team-mates.
He said: "Cookie's an outstanding guy.
"From the moment I met him at Essex, when he was a youngster, his character shone through.
"Part of that is his determination to succeed - in a very quiet, undemonstrative way - and also his integrity.
"Again, (that is) not done in any showy way at all. It's just the way he is."
Cook, Flower believes, is a naturally empathetic man-manager.
"The other thing that really stands out for me about Cookie is that he cares about his players," he said.
"That is why the players love him, and they want to play for him.
"You can't put that on. That is totally authentic, and it oozes out of him."
As well as Jennings, Cook will have another Test novice in his squad as England try to recover from back-to-back defeats in pursuit of an unlikely 2-2 series draw.
Liam Dawson was an unexpected selection for many, to replace injured spinner Zafar Ansari.
Even the Hampshire all-rounder himself admits he was taken aback.
"Yes, very surprised," said Dawson.
"I didn't expect it at all, but it's a great opportunity and very exciting."
While Jennings has been leading the Lions, Dawson has been busy too - with Rangpur Riders in the Bangladesh Premier League.
"I'd admit my white-ball cricket is a lot stronger than my red-ball cricket, but I feel I'm still improving in that area over the last couple of years," he said.
"If I get the opportunity, I hope I'll offer some control with the ball.
"That's what I do with Hampshire - that's all I can do if selected for England.
"That's my job and has been my job for the last three years at the Ageas Bowl."
:: England's two new recruits were both in action on Saturday, before their flights to India. Jennings made 21 in the Lions' 100-run victory over United Arab Emirates, and Dawson took two for 11 as the Riders beat Barisal Bulls.
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Keaton Jennings, pictured, is in line for a Test debut as Alastair Cook's latest opening partner in Mumbai