August 11, 2020, 20:46

Joe Denly turns cameos into a big score to tighten grip on England Test place

Joe Denly turns cameos into a big score to tighten grip on England Test place

Joe Denly’s international career has been one of glimpses.

We caught a glimpse of him in white-ball cricket around a decade ago, predominantly in one-day internationals when he managed two fifties and a number of other starts in nine games.

We saw another glimpse of him late last year when stellar county form with Kent across all forms was rewarded with an international recall and he bagged four wickets with his leg-spin in a T20I against Sri Lanka.

And we have seen plenty of glimpses of his talent again in Tests since he was handed his debut in the West Indies in January – the 33-year-old now passing fifty four times in eight Tests from three different batting positions after being shifted around to accommodate others.

Denly helped kick-start England’s unlikely pursuit of 359 – one which was remarkably, brutally and cerebrally completed by the brilliant Ben Stokes – in the third Test at Headingley with a 155-ball 50 from the No 4 spot after wearing a number of blows to the body and helmet.

Then, after being moved back up to the opening berth for the fourth Test at Old Trafford, he battled away again with a 123-ball 53 as England at one point threatened to emerge with an Ashes-saving draw and not slip to the defeat that ensured Australia retained the urn.

Finally, Denly turned a cameo into something considerable at The Oval – if not as considerable as he was hoping for after falling six runs short of becoming the oldest man to hit a maiden Test ton since England’s Clive Radley against New Zealand in 1978.

It was a 94, though, that came against a fine bowling attack and from a batting position he has not fulfilled regularly for some time at county level. It may well tee up a series-drawing victory for his side and could cement his spot in the squad for this autumn’s two-Test assignment in New Zealand.

The jury was out ahead of this innings, as among those gritty knocks and a glut of brief and pretty ones, have been flimsy drives that have seen him nick off, plus troubles against bouncers after taking his eyes off the ball.

One of those flimsy drives came in the first innings of this Test as he flashed at a wide delivery from Pat Cummins and, in a very ungainly manner, snicked to slip for 14 in the ninth over.

It was a stroke that had a number of pundits scratching their heads and asking ‘what was that shot?’, while it caused Sky Sports’ David Lloyd to suggest the axe was set to fall on the Kent batsman.

Perhaps not now. Denly left noticeably better second time around, shouldering arms to wide deliveries outside off stump and only driving, elegantly as always, the ones closer to his body.

When Australia dropped short and wide, though, he cashed in, and also flicked effortlessly off his pads when the tourists erred too straight.

Playing off spin was key for Denly, too – he attacked Lyon early on, skipping confidently to the pitch of the ball and depositing the bowler over his head. The pundits’ tune changed from ‘what was that shot?’ to ‘what a shot!’

There were scares. Denly would have been dismissed for a duck had Marcus Harris not shown butterfingers at gully on Friday evening.

Then, a day later, he would have been lbw to Mitchell Marsh had Tim Paine – who has had a nightmare series with DRS – opted for the review, while inside-edges went close to the stumps, outside-edges dropped short, and he just about cleared a backpedalling Marsh at mid-off.

And the fact Denly couldn’t quite reach three figures – he fell to an excellent delivery from Peter Siddle that moved in and then moved away to take the edge – will no doubt irk him. It was a glorious chance to become a Test centurion, but it should not be his last chance.

His age could count against him when national selector Ed Smith and co sit down to pick the squad for the New Zealand tour, as could his Test match batting average of 28.56.

Ollie Pope (21), Zak Crawley (21) and Dom Sibley (24) would represent long-term investments and still have room for improvement, whereas Denly, you feel, is as good as he is going to get.

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That’s still pretty good, though. Over 11,000 first-class runs, a knowledge of his game and a willingness to adapt it when presented with problems. Not something you can say about all England batsmen.

It’s also worth noting that his selection in the first place was in large part down to the endorsement of former Kent team-mate Smith, who said Denly had a “touch of class in his DNA.”


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