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Cricket news - Joe Denly - A tried and tested dart
They say the average top-tier cricketer generally gets two calls that stop them in their tracks. The first informs of international selection. The second lets them know their time is up.
Sometimes there is a third sandwiched in between. Only 80 would have had that, mind; and by call, obviously, Douglas Jardine's 3210 wasn't banging out the polyphonic Nokia tune when he was told he would be England's 35th Test captain.
It was the recipient of the last call of such note, Joe Root, who was on the other end of Joe Denly's fourth call. A first and second gave, then took away, a white-ball only stint from Denly back in 2009-10. Just last week, though, there was nothing by way of bad news or a hasty ascension when he answered his phone.
"He [Root] rung me the other day and told me he wanted to bat No.3 and wanted me to go 4," Denly revealed on Tuesday (July 30) in his press conference.
A simple text along the lines of "hey, u up for 4?" would have sufficed. The 33-year old said he "wasn't too fussed" about where he would play, so simply confirmation he was in the XI would be enough. Nevertheless, it was a welcome Rooty call.
Denly's Test career to date is the perfect snapshot of his and England's predicament. In the six innings where he has opened, he batted at number three and, last week at Lord's because of a nightwatchman, registered a go at four, too. A utility batsman used accordingly. Crystal clarity of his worth in a squad, clear as mud when it comes to where he sits in the XI. Overall, he averages 24.16.
One of the perils of being a late-comer on the batting merry-go-round, and this applies to Rory Burns, is that almost every type of player has been trialled and tossed: those with numbers (Stoneman), those with technique (Compton), those with white-ball pedigree (Hales), those with credit (Trott), those with promise (Hameed), those on a whim (Moeen), those off the wall (Duckett).
So when you get that first (or third) call, you're left looking at yourself and wondering what it is the selectors see in you. And in avoiding the voice in the back of your head saying "they've tried everyone else", you go to your defaults. For Denly, it's 15-years of first-class experience.
You see, there's a lot more to Denly than being in the right place at the right time. He has seen 15 first-class summers: enough to be ambitious, ditch Kent for Middlesex - and Division One cricket - before returning and, as the facts bear out, becoming a more rounded cricketer just when he thought sustained international honours were beyond him.
In the four full seasons before earning his Test call-up at the end of the 2018 summer, he scored 4,304 runs. Sure, all were in Division Two, but the split is something else: 609 came as an opening batsman; 2,705 at number three (his best average in this time, at 53.03); 709 at number four and the other 11 between five, six and seven. As Big Pun might have said - he's not a utility player, he just shifts a lot.
But here we are, on the cusp of the Ashes, Denly inked in at four, braced for the biggest challenge of his career. An attack which he's never faced before. Well, one face he certainly has.
A World Cup snub left time for self-reflection that Denly spent, largely, becoming one with the red-ball again. Scores of 20, 11, 4 and 1 hint at blues. But two innings later came the sizeable red-inker of 167 not out against a Nottinghamshire attack featuring James Pattinson, who is set to start the first Test.
Even this knock, which set-up a 285-run win for Kent, was muted by Denly: "I was able to spend a bit of time out there. On a reasonably slow deck at Tunbridge Wells he still hit the bat hard on a flat surface."
Notable scores of 88 (against Surrey) and 154 (against Hampshire) followed before a top-scoring 23 in the 85 all out first innings against Ireland, then barbecued by Root on 10. A second apology was contained in last week's call if you're wondering.
But then, you take a step back and realise, well, is it form that's picking Denly? As mentioned, here's a man who is happy to be here, mentally equipped to see through the bluster and wary he is lucky to be here. Maybe that, truly, is what he or anyone can garner from coming into this England side as an experienced head.
"I learned from when I previously played for England, I put too much pressure on myself," he says. And those may be empty words if reviewed in a week's time after a couple more failures.
But if you have seen what Denly has seen, and been through the season upon season worth of graft that he has, then why would you put pressure on yourself? The objectivity age gives you, especially to a mind as measured as Denly, will appreciate he is amid a chaotic period in English Test cricket. One which he is not responsible for.
As much as we talk about how youthful exuberance takes you far in professional sport because of no fear of failure, England have chewed through youth like nicotine tablets. Sometimes, what you need to keep yourself level, even for a moment, is a tried and tested dart.
"Fortunately," Denly says of his journey as a one-day player, to Middlesex, back to Kent and then to the unrelenting scrutiny of the Test cricket, "it brings me here." To an Ashes series. "That's a pretty cool place to be."
The final call may be coming. But Denly never thought the phone would ring again, and he's not fearful of it ringing one last time.
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