England batsman Keaton Jennings celebrates scoring a century against Sri Lanka on Thursday. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

GALLE – England batsman Keaton Jennings paid tribute to friends and family on Thursday after putting a “really tough” 18 months of sleepless nights behind him with an unbeaten 146 against Sri Lanka.

“Over the last 18 months, I’ve faced some things in my cricketing life I’ve had to learn from. I’ve had to develop myself,” Jennings said after his innings on the third day of the first Test in Galle.

“It’s just really pleasing, and a big thank you to the people who have stuck with me over the last 18 months, backed me through some tough times, waking in the night panicking and stressing, and going through some tough times,” he said.

“My mum and dad have been really good. My uncle,” he said.

“I suppose you do have to keep believing. Whether it’s daft of yourself to believe or not, but as sportsmen, there are times you need to bluff yourself into thinking you’re capable of it.

“When you’re waking up at 6.30 in the morning and reading about your technical deficiencies, it’s not human to say it wouldn’t affect you,” the South Africa-born 26-year-old said, whose father Ray Jennings was a renowned wicket-keeper for Transvaal, and a former coach of the Proteas.

Jennings’ patient innings, his first century since his debut ton in 2016, allowed England to declare at 322/6, setting the hosts a daunting 462 to win.

Sri Lanka’s openers survived seven overs before stumps to end at 15/0, with a further 447 to make at a ground where no team has successfully chased more than 99.

Jennings’ performance will go some way to silencing his critics – many of whom were calling for him to be dropped after his poor home series against India this summer, when he averaged just 18.

He scored 112 at Mumbai in December 2016 on his debut, but was axed after a disastrous tour of his native South Africa in 2017 saw him dropped. He returned against Pakistan in May this year.

“I’m just really proud to be sitting here today, having put us in a position to hopefully win,” he said.