On the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast the panel discussed the future of Joe Denly at number three in England’s Test line-up, in the context of Zak Crawley’s second-innings 76 at Southampton.
Denly has played 15 Test matches, and with his two scores of 18 and 29 in the last Test, now averages below 30. Crawley, 12 years younger than Denly, averages a smidgen more at 31.25 and impressed with his half-century in England’s defeat.
On Monday, when asked about Denly, England head coach Chris Silverwood said: “We’re all really desperate for Joe to do well. We can see he’s trying hard, he’s training hard. He’s a great bloke hence why we all went to see him do well, but he’s probably feeling the pressure a little bit.”
Silverwood also added that Crawley showed “maturity” in his innings and is “improving constantly”.
With Joe Root guaranteed to return to the England XI following the birth of his second child, there is only room for one of Denly and Crawley. Here’s the debate that unfolded on the podcast, recorded immediately after West Indies wrapped up victory at the Ageas Bowl.
Yas Rana: Taha, who do you think should bat at three?
Taha Hashim: For me, it’s Zak Crawley, he’s got a higher ceiling. He looks the part when I see him. Watching his Test debut, he was really nervous, and then every time since then he’s just looked a better player each innings; everyone has said that about him and I agree with that. He just looks a good player. Joe Denly is reliable in a way but I just feel like England should dream bigger. He’s done a good job, and he gives a platform for the guys after him. But I don’t see any reason why Zak Crawley can’t do that either and Zak Crawley played pretty well in this Test, and I just feel like he’s done enough and deserves a go.
Ben Gardner: I’d say I’m slightly in favour of retaining Joe Denly for the moment. I’m currently getting stick on Twitter for saying that in a piece. To be honest I agree with a lot of what Taha says and what people have been saying about Joe Denly v Zak Crawley. I think Zak Crawley does have a higher ceiling, he does look very good whenever he plays. Joe Denly does have a worrying trend of dismissals and I think that he is not going to be a world-class number No.3 but also, Zak Crawley has three first-class centuries, averages 31, only averages a run and a half more than Joe Denly in Test cricket even having supposedly had this promising start to Test cricket. And I think crucially, how England will see it, he faces 10 balls fewer per dismissal. I think England would rather have a No.3 who is scoring 29 off 75 rather than 31 off 65 as Zak Crawley is.
The other thing is people almost make fun of Joe Denly for getting into double digits every time, but there is a certain, albeit limited, value to it. Twenty-four out of 28 Test dismissals, which is a remarkable ratio really, he’s got into double figures. Obviously ideally England would expect more from their No.3, but I don’t think you’re going to guarantee Zak Crawley is going to do better than Joe Denly is doing. There is a very real chance when you start picking him and you see he is at that level at the moment where he will average 30, it won’t be long before people are calling for his head before the India tour.
I think what Zak Crawley needs is a season in county cricket, which he is likely to get the chance to get because there is going to be county cricket this summer. Put together an actual campaign of note, which he hasn’t had the chance to do yet and then England can see where they are at the end of their summer. I don’t think planning for the future means having to stack your top six with players under the age of 25. I think that Joe Denly is still doing the job that England have picked him for and I think that while he continues to do that and there isn’t another candidate, I can see why they will stick with him.
YR: Phil, it dawned on me in this Test match that Joe Denly might actually be No.3 during the Ashes next winter, which is something I’ve not really thought about. I do actually think there’s logic in him staying in the team. There’s no outstanding option outside of the team banging on the door, specifically in the No.3 spot – I know we both love Dan Lawrence. Phil, what do you think England will do with Joe Denly and the No.3 spot?
Phil Walker: I think they’ll drop him. I think they’ll drop him and play Zak Crawley at three from hereon in. Isn’t that obvious? Crawley played a really quite classy and important innings in the second innings when the pitch was wearing and the pressure was on, and he went out and he strung 76. He’s clearly a better player than Denly, with more versatility. Denly’s technique has been picked apart at Test-match level, it’s not his fault. It is what it is. I would be shocked if, come Thursday morning, Crawley’s not batting three and Joe Root is not batting four. I’d be absolutely shocked by that.
Crawley also showed in South Africa, when he was thrown into the lion’s den, he showed that he could score runs against good quality attacks. In that first innings he was sorted out and after that he has made some contribution in every innings. I think he made a 20, a 40 and a 60 thereafter. I would just be shocked if Denly plays in the next Test match. I would be amazed. I hope for our own sanity that this conversation can finally be put to bed come Thursday morning and we can all move on.
We can thank Joe and he will thank England for 15 Test matches – 15 Test matches he never thought he was going to get, and he’s had a lovely time of it. He almost made an Ashes hundred and he played a big part in that famous win at The Oval. Everybody’s comfortable with that. And we can all move on and address the next situation.
BG: But the scores that you site, he got a 20, 40, a 60 and a 70, if you read those scores out and said Joe Denly is only getting 20s and 40s and the occasional 70, you’d be like, “Oh yeah, you have got to drop him and find the next guy”. I mean he made 76, sure, he also got out when the game was there to be put to bed. And I think England will in a way credit Denly with some of those runs because Crawley got to come in in the 50th over, you a say on a wearing pitch, I would say against part-time spinners and wearing bowlers.
Crawley just hasn’t put together an unanswerable case which I think it’s how it’s often presented. I personally don’t think that England will yet see it that way.