England cricket: Joe Denly chasing maiden Test cap after starring in one-off T20 in Sri Lanka

Exclusive interview: Denly won the man-of-the-match award on his first England cap in eight years

Wednesday 12 December 2018 13:54
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Joe Denly will spend the next month playing the magenta of the Sydney Sixers in Australia’s Big Bash – but he’s tickled pink to still find himself as part of England’s plans following a frustrating tour of Sri Lanka.

Denly played his first international match in eight years on England’s pre-Christmas tour, starring in a T20 win in Colombo, which saw him take 4 for 19 with his part-time leg-spin. Failures with the bat in the two warm-up matches before the Test series, though, meant he was on the outside looking in as England romped to a whitewash against the hosts.

It’s five in the morning when The Independent catches up with Denly on Australia’s east coast, with jet-lag ensuring some sleepless nights for the Kent star on his arrival Down Under.

The prospect of facing the West Indies in no longer a cause for fitful sleep. But after sealing a spot in England’s Test and one-day squad for the Caribbean, Denly is hopeful he can put any doubts about his ability at the highest level to bed. And make 2019 a year to remember.

“The World Cup and an Ashes series is a pretty big carrot, isn’t it?” Denly says. “If you did need any additional motivation then that should provide it. Not that this group do – we’re flying at the moment.”

Denly is hoping to break into the Test side in time for the 2019 Ashes

Denly himself has been clocking up the air miles in recent seasons, travelling to T20 competitions across the world and proving himself a mightily effective performer, primarily with the bat but also, on occasion, with the ball too. His form for Kent in all competitions last season was enough to thrust him back into England contention and although a first Test cap has so far eluded him, a change in the balance of the side in the West Indies could see him finally realise that ambition.

“I was quietly hoping to be part of one of the squads, if not both, after going out and doing pretty well in that T20 [in Sri Lanka],” he says.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance in the Tests but had I been I was always confident that I could do a good job. Now, I’m delighted to be involved in both. That T20 couldn’t have gone any better – it was a very special kind of comeback.

“Obviously there was a bit of misfortune for Liam Dawson getting injured but for me to get that call-up and join up with the squad and then get that opportunity was amazing.

Denly was crowned NatWest PCA Players’ Player of the Year in 2018

“It had been a long time since I’d last played for England and I had always felt I hadn’t done myself justice in the past, in T20 cricket especially. So to put in a performance like that was very satisfying.”

England won that sole T20 international by 30 runs, with Denly crowning his return with a player of the match award. It was a timely reminder of his all-round talents for an England side that is hardly short on jack of all trades cricketers. But after taking so long to get back into the international reckoning, Denly is intent on staying part of England plans, regardless of the deep talent pool available to captain and coach.

“It was always going to be spin-friendly conditions in Sri Lanka and I think it really showed just how strong this England side is, not just in white ball cricket but in Test cricket now too,” he says. "To come away from Sri Lanka having won 3-0 is quite incredible – but it’s a tough team to get into, that’s for sure.

“The way they played in the Test series, in particular, is credit to Joe Root and the coaches. They really went out there with a great attitude and the squad really bought into that. England never really let Sri Lanka settle, we took the attack to them whenever we could and we were the best team by far.

“The next 12 months are going to be huge and it’s a great opportunity for myself and everyone else in that squad to really put our name in the hat for what will be a massive year for English cricket. The World Cup and the Ashes, it doesn’t get much bigger.”

Once the jet lag clears, Denly will hope a successful Big Bash sees him fly further up the England pecking order.

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