On the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, a bumper preview of the England-West Indies Test series, the panel discussed the international future of Joe Denly.
Denly has featured in each of England’s last 14 Tests, scoring 780 runs at an average of exactly 30 in that time, with six half-centuries and a high score of 94. He is almost sure to make his 15th appearance in the first Test against West Indies at the Ageas Bowl, but with regular captain Joe Root set to return from the birth of his second child in time for the second Test, the 33-year-old’s future beyond the next game is far from certain.
His chief rival for the No.3 spot looks like being his Kent teammate Zak Crawley, who has one half-century and an average of 27.33. Though he only has a first-class average of 31.95, the 22-year-old is viewed as one of England’s brightest prospects, and Denly’s place has also come under pressure from Essex’s Dan Lawrence, not in the squad for the first Test but viewed by many as England’s next cab off the rank.
Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor Jo Harman and Wisden.com features editor Taha Hashim agreed that Denly’s career was on the line.
JH: “Zak Crawley and Joe Denly have kept their places and are now in a straight shootout. That Denly-Crawley thing is quite interesting in itself because it’s not so long ago that Denly was giving Crawley his Test cap which [Denly] described to me as one of the proudest moments of his career so far. But it’s not exaggeration to say that Crawley is one good score away from ending Denly’s career in the next Test, which is brutal but a fascinating subplot to what should be a really interesting game all round.
“Joe Denly needs a really big series here if he’s still going to be a Test player come the Pakistan series, because he’s now under attack from so many different points. It’s not just a play-off between him and Crawley in this match, which it is, but then beyond that you’ve got Lawrence who, I think it’s fair to say, has a higher ceiling than Denly, and obviously age is on Lawrence’s side. All it will take is a couple of failures and those calls for Denly to call time on his Test career will really be heightened. It’s probably a 50/50 split already of people who think Denly shouldn’t be playing Test cricket for England, possibly even more in favour of him not playing Test cricket for England.”
TH: “I’m quite interested to see whether Joe Denly bats at three or four. I think that affects things. If he bats at four that almost feels like it’s ‘You’re here for a Test’ and then Joe Root comes back and you blood in Crawley. I think Crawley’s got a lot more credit in the bank than Denly: He did quite well as an opener in South Africa, and he’s obviously the young man. He’s someone England can invest in.”
England selector Ed Smith has since suggested that Denly will bat at three, and the panel, which also included Wisden.com managing editor Ben Gardner, agreed that, when the time does come, Denly can look back on his Test career with pride because of the solidity he has given England. He has reached double figures in all but four of his 26 Test innings, and faced 100 or more deliveries in nine of his last 15 knocks.
TH: “With Joe Denly now, he’s actually very reliable. You know exactly what you’re going to get, he’s going to soak up a lot of balls. He does take a lot of time to get in, but it does really benefit the guys that come in after him. But I wouldn’t say it’s a straight shootout. Crawley does have a lot more credit in the bank than Denly. Denly is quite under the pump. At the same time, he’s done a decent job for England over the past year.”
JH: “Whenever the time comes that Denly’s Test career is deemed over, I think he will be missed more than a lot of people think at the moment. He’s been invaluable for England over the past year, even if the numbers don’t necessarily back that up.”
BG: “I actually get a similar feeling of comfort from him as I did from Jonathan Trott. You always feel that he is going to stave off the collapse, that if one of the openers goes early Denly is unlikely to follow. He’s not the same calibre of player but he has given England a sense of security that will be missed quite a lot.”