I honestly thought he’d get there. He was just six runs short – that’s one top edged Pietersen hook off Brett Lee away – from scoring a maiden test hundred. It was impossible not to feel completely gutted for the bloke.
I like Denly. Everyone’s warmed to Jack Leach because he’s an ordinary Joe. But Denly’s no different. And he’s actually called Joe.
England’s new / old opener seems so unassuming and modest. And behind that serious demeanour lurks a dry sense of humour. He looks a bit like John Squire from The Stone Roses. But most of all he reminds me of snooker great Steve Davis. And there’s no greater Brit than the Romford Slim.
Denly’s innings today was a study in girt and bloody mindedness. He was rarely fluent. But when he did occasionally middle the ball he looked just as elegant as a James Vince or Michael Vaughan. You can see why Ed Smith loves him so much. It’s that orthodox languidness that made me love him as a young prospect all those years ago.
And yet questions will still be asked. Conventional thinkers will assume that he’s booked his place on England’s winter tours for sure now. He probably has. But I’m not 100% convinced.
Denly led a very charmed life today on a good batting pitch with clear blue skies overhead. He could, and perhaps should, have been dismissed three or four times during his watch. There was the dropped catch at the end of day 2, an lbw that really should have been given (or reviewed), and he was beaten several times on both the outside and inside edges. And heaven knows how he wasn’t bowled by Siddle a few deliveries before he eventually succumbed.
It’s worth remembering that James Vince scored 76 in his last test innings at Christchurch. But he was dropped anyway because when the selectors took stock at the end of England’s winter they judged him on a body of evidence rather than his last innings.
Vince had shone in Christchurch, he scored 83 at Brisbane, and a useful 55 at Perth. In fact, he made single figure scores just twice over the whole winter. But Ed Smith decided there were too many starts and not enough match-defining innings to keep faith.
Although I’m tempted to say that Ed Smith loves to do the unconventional – and there’s nothing more unconventional than dropping a player after he’s made a good score – Denly has the advantage of being a Smith man, rather than a James Whitaker man, so I expect him to survive. However, sadly I don’t think Denly’s knock today will be enough to silence his doubters.
Personally I’m torn. I really am. I get both sides of the argument. At 33 years old Joe Denly is not the future. But he could be a sensible stopgap until younger players are ready.
But if England persist with Joe then where will he bat? Most people assumed that Dominic Sibley (or perhaps even Zak Crawley) might open with Rory Burns this winter. Should a man who will be pushing 35 when the next Ashes comes around stand in the way of another player who’s young enough to play one hundred times for England?
However, nobody knows at this point whether Sibley or Crawley will cut the mustard. England have been searching for a dogged opener for years and now we’ve found one it seems stupid to throw an asset away. And who’s to say that Denly won’t be able to show stickability in his mid-thirties? Graham Gooch was at his peak then.
Sometimes t’s easy to forget that this Australian bowling attack is probably the best in the world. Most of England’s batsmen have struggled. And yet somehow Joe Denly has managed to score three half centuries at an average of 31. That’s obviously not great but it’s no worse than the skipper’s mustered.
What’s more he’s improved as the series has gone on. Denly hasn’t been worked out. Instead the Australians have found him increasingly tricky to dismiss. That’s a very good sign. Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks after all?
So where does the game stand after Denly’s vigil? I’m happy to report that England are still in pole position and we should – should! – win the game from here. A lead of 382 is substantial. And it will take something pretty special for this flawed Australian batting unit to chase it down. If I was them I’d open with Steve Smith so he doesn’t run out of partners!
Having said that, England had the opportunity to put the game completely beyond the Canary Yellows’ reach at 222-3 and then 279-5. What a shame that we lost 5-83 in the late afternoon sun. A more confident (dare I say it competent) batting team would’ve ground the opposition into the dust on that pitch and under those skies. There wasn’t a hint of swing all day.
Let’s hope our generosity doesn’t cost us. I’m confident that it won’t, but I bet the Aussies were similarly confident at Leeds.
Actually let’s not go there. It’s in the bag. Honest guv.