Winter battle inspires Denly
When Joe Denly re-enters the England team, he will do so with the fervent belief that he belongs in international cricket.
Denly travelled to South Africa in possession of an opening spot in England’s limited-overs sides, but the inexorable rise of Jonathan Trott saw the Kent opening batsman sidelined for the one-day series, which the tourists won 2-1.
Undeterred, the 24-year-old decamped to Pretoria with the England Performance Programme, and served a timely reminder of his capacity to occupy the crease with a career-best 217 in a tour match victory over Nashua Titans.
As Denly told ecb.co.uk, his maiden double hundred was a significant personal landmark.
“Once I get in I want to bat as long as possible,” he said. “In the one-dayers, sitting on the sidelines was pretty frustrating so I was really determined to enjoy the time at the crease.
“I’ve been a bit guilty in the past of not going on to get big hundreds for Kent. That’s my first double hundred, and my first-class best is 149, so hopefully this is a stepping stone.
“It was satisfying because I knew I’d be playing a four-day game here, and I was able to make the most of it on a really nice batting wicket in perfect playing conditions.”
Denly is often held up by commentators as an affirmation of the English domestic system - schooled in the local Kent Cricket Leagues, possessed of an eye-catching array of strokes and, above all, a pure opening batsman.
His captain at Kent, Rob Key, has marvelled at his junior partner’s ability to adapt his game year on year.
And in this instance, the proximity of the EPP, based at the University of Pretoria to mirror and provide cover for the full England side, allowed Denly a swift opportunity to arrest a shortage of runs.
A man accustomed to playing authoritative one-day innings for Kent, it clearly irks Denly that he could not produce a defining innings in the summer's NatWest Series and Champions Trophy.
“I’ve come away from England still pretty confident,” he said. “I feel like I belong at that level, but I’m a little bit disappointed in myself that I haven’t nailed down that opening spot.
“In the games I’ve played for England I’ve felt really comfortable. To be honest, 90% of the time I think I’ve got myself out with rash shots.
“I went into the one-day competition with that opening spot probably being mine.
“But I have no complaints about being dropped. I didn't take my chance in the final warm-up game, and Trotty came in and played brilliantly well. He had a great series, and never really looked like getting out.
“I'm looking forward to scoring the runs to get that position back. There are no major technical issues; for me, it’s about spending time at the crease.
“If anything, with the two squads in the same country, it makes you want to perform even more because you know if there's an injury you could be playing for England in a few days.”
As with other aspiring England players, Denly will be observing with interest the build-up to England’s next overseas tour to Bangladesh in February.
In the light of increasingly arduous international schedules, managing director of England Cricket Hugh Morris has made it clear that certain series, including the impending Tests with South Africa, have been granted “priority” status.
A future rotation policy could mean a much-earned rest for leading players in the two Tests in Bangladesh, ahead of another busy English summer.
In that event, Denly may have some rivals at the top of the order. In the two games played by the EPP in South Africa, Michael Carberry played commanding innings of 100 and 76, while Lancashire’s new opener Stephen Moore also chipped in with useful runs.
“We all want to be in contention for that Bangladesh trip, whether players are rested or not,” said Denly.
“I scored some runs this week, and Carbs made a hundred in the first EPP game. Stephen Moore has always scored runs on these sort of trips. So there's a lot of competition, which is good for all of us.
“I’m sure England can only benefit from having three openers scoring lots of runs.”