Farewell to Joe Denly and an upside down test career

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During his long and not entirely brilliant career, Joe Denly learned all about being outdoors – he spent nine years and an England record of 384 games in the desert, after all, before his remarkable reminder to Sri Lanka in 2018. For the next two weeks in Manchester, however, he can prepare for something of the opposite experience – a melancholy and poignant period of being inside looking out.Inside the bio-secure bubble of England at Emirates Old Trafford, in search of his teammates who advance without him. In the team environment, for now, but looking to his new life as a former international cricketer – the status he will surely be given for good this time, after his streak of 15 consecutive tests ended as it had started, a test in a losing campaign against the West Indies.

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Never say never, you could argue. The door is not closed, as Joe Root insisted, but it is surely only because opening it would risk allowing a threatening lurgia for the series to pierce the inner sanctum of the team. At the age of 34, and with rising star Dan Lawrence already strained for the next opening in the team, there can be no coming back from here.

Instead, it looks like Denly’s last innings against the West Indies last week will testify to every attribute – good, bad and maddening – that he brought to a pasty but ultimately inadequate test career.

Denly was faced on Saturday at the Ageas Bowl, not for the first time, with reinvigorating a stick defeat in England. He showed plenty of grain as he settled in for another of his long journeys. But then, with the hardest work done, a flabby midwicket clip off Roston Chase’s rotation meant he had bowed for the 28th and last time with 29 of 70 balls – barely half a point before his final average of 29.53, and only five balls from his average wicket stay.

There have been other, more praised test drummers who have on average worse than that – Mark Ramprakash (27.32) and Moeen Ali (28.97) among them, while Graeme Hick (31.32) and the essential Jos Buttler (31,46) are just a check above.

A degree of mockery is inevitable, not least because of the close attention Denly received from her former teammate and Kent chief coach, Ed Smith, who called him “genius” before he was called back to Sri Lanka and tried if strong to push him into the World Cup plans in England too. But Denly’s sustainability is worth celebrating with something more than simple irony.

Because history can record its highest test score at 94, but it would be neglectful to ignore its course of nine “dentures” in the space of 13 rounds: stays of 100 balls or more which entered a a certain niche of cricket folklore, as much as the Australian-renowned “Cowan” Ed, did during Michael Clarke’s reconstruction years in 2012-13.

Because such was the fate of Denly during a crusader era for English cricket. Consider the chaos he was asked to help wipe out his Caribbean debut 18 months ago – England had just been eliminated for 77 in the first test in Barbados, losing nine wickets in a single session. And if it was bad, then at least it was a slight improvement over the ten in one session they had wasted in Auckland, Dhaka and Nottingham in previous seasons.

The test team was without a rudder. Alastair Cook was long gone, one-day stars were concerned with staying in character for the approaching World Cup, and although England in theory had the most impressive lower-middle order of the game, with every 5 to 9 man-jack considering themselves to be an allrounder, there was no hope that they would get kicked in any contest if the team were 30 to 3 each handle.

What England needed at that time, even more desperately than the races, was the weather. A chance to catch your breath, be it the middle order themselves, or the English sailors who were tired of getting their feet up for barely half a day at a time. And Denly, with the unglamorous grain of the seasoned pro, was able to oblige.

In a five-month zenith between August 2019 and January this year, Denly became a batting goose straight out of Chris Tavare’s play book. It started most famously in the second round of the Ash Test in Leeds, where Denly’s whirlwind, unrecognized but ultimately priceless 50 of 155 balls provided the grain for Ben Stokes’ Headingley oyster.

The pair did not share as much as one delivery in this historic second run – instead, they crossed the outside field after Denly’s layoff in the 60th in the England innings. And yet, by enduring that long and helping to eat away 141 points on an unlikely victory goal of 359, he did what few England’s No. 3 have achieved since the death of Jonathan Trott. He gave England’s middle order a rare chance to fold before the new ball and flourish afterwards.

And more recently, his efforts have given England the next big thing the opportunity to flourish too. By removing the heat from Ollie Pope in the first months of his return to the side, Denly allowed him to settle in the team at number 6, like Ricky Ponting, rather than letting him become a another sacrifice for the team’s decline. standards in the first three. It will be the place of the pope soon enough, you feel it. But doing things in a hurry has been England’s fall in testing for far too many seasons now.

“It is never an easy decision to lose someone from the team,” Root said on the eve of the test. “Joe has done a brilliant job over a period of time for us and I guess he has helped show our identity as a team and the way we want to play to move forward. He played an important role in beating long periods and setting the platform for medium order to continue and make big scores. ”

That’s right, and at least on this occasion, Denly will leave with some gratitude in his ears – unlike his experience in 2010, when he was dumped on the eve of World T20 in the Caribbean, and had to look from the outside as England lifted its first world trophy.

He spent the rest of the decade assuming he would never have another chance. At least this time, he ends up as an initiate.

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