Joe Denly’s big audition: The pros and cons of handing him a World Cup spot

England

Joe Denly has been one of the more divisive candidates in terms of public opinion on who should be included in England’s final World Cup squad to be named next week. Included as a leg-spinner for Tuesday’s third ODI against Pakistan in Bristol, Denly faces his biggest audition yet. We run the rule over the pros and cons of including him in the big show.

Why is Joe Denly playing on Tuesday?

England are keen to test the bench strength of their World Cup squad. He was named in the 15-man provisional squad but, with him having played only one ODI this decade (though he was named in the side for the rained-off match at The Oval), there is still some doubt as to whether his leg-spin bowling is up to the level required. So England have rested Adil Rashid – who is certain to play in the World Cup – and given Denly this opportunity to see what he can do.

So he’s on trial?

That’s one interpretation, certainly. Though England might stress that he is simply being given some game time with a view to providing Eoin Morgan more information about how to use him. But, yes, this probably is a big game for him. It’s not as if he’s the first England player to go on trial in Bristol.

Wasn’t he a batsman when he first played for England?

Yes, he was. He played nine ODIs and five T20Is as an opening batsman in 2009. He did OK, too, with two half-centuries in those ODIs. He made his Test debut as a batsman over the winter, too, making 69 in the final Test against West Indies. It’s still the stronger part of his game and he could well come in at No. 3 in the Ashes. He’s scored more than 11,000 first-class runs and taken just 62 wickets. He does have an unwanted record as a batsman, though: he was out first ball on his first-class debut, T20I debut and IPL debut. He was actually out first ball in both his first two T20I games.

So when did he start bowling?

He has always bowled a bit. But it was only really in the summer of 2018 – by which time he was 32 – that he bowled the volume of overs to be taken seriously. He claimed 23 first-class wickets that season – his best tally before that was eight – with another 14 in List A cricket. He started to establish himself in T20 leagues, too, and now has valuable experience in the BPL, PSL, BBL and IPL to draw from. He claimed 20 wickets in England’s domestic T20 tournament last summer and claimed 4-19 – the best figures of his career in any form of cricket – when recalled to the England T20I side in Sri Lanka at the end of 2018.

Sounds great.

Maybe. The concern is that, in his entire career, he has taken just 22 List A wickets in England and Wales. The rest of them have come overseas in conditions which may suit his bowling more and against opposition some way below that anticipated in the World Cup. Denly is, without doubt, a good batsman and fine utility cricketer. There’s just some doubt as to whether is bowling is up to going into an ODI with his captain requiring a minimum of six or so overs from it.

So his is a bold selection?

Yes. Ed Smith, the head selector, played with him at Kent at the start of Denly’s career and has always rated him. He is clearly the driving force behind the selection, but James Taylor and Trevor Bayliss are full of praise for his all-round virtues, too. And with Smith encouraged by his recall of Jos Buttler to England’s Test team a year ago – it is hard to remember now, but it was a somewhat contentious decision at the time – he may be confident in trusting his instincts more than ever.

How has Denly looked so far?

He batted quite nicely in the T20I in Cardiff. He hasn’t bowled that much. But he started his spell in Cardiff with two long-hops that were thrashed for six and was taken off after one over. He did claim a maiden ODI wicket in Dublin, but it came when Ben Foakes completed a stumping off a leg-side wide. But that’s the point, really: he’s in the squad as a spin-bowling all-rounder having delivered just 30 balls in his entire ODI career. England really need to find out far more about his bowling at this level.

Who could replace him?

The most like-for-like option would probably be Liam Dawson. He’s enjoying a great season in the Royal London One Day Cup – he’s seventh in the wickets tally table and has the best economy rate of bowlers to have delivered a minimum of 40 overs – and, until he suffered a side injury in Sri Lanka was in the squad anyway. Bayliss suggested a few days ago he could yet be called into this series for the last couple of games.

Do England need three spinners in their World Cup squad?

Good question. The current thinking of the team management is that they don’t require seven seamers (including Ben Stokes) in their squad, so they might as well try and cover a few other bases with the inclusion of a spin-bowling all-rounder. Denly, they argue, doesn’t just offer spin-bowling cover: he offers cover for a variety of batting positions and is a fine fielder almost anywhere. They are also aware that, while sides can call-up replacements in the event of injury, the players released cannot be recalled. So they don’t want to be in the position where they have to release Moeen Ali or Adil Rashid for the entire tournament just because they can’t bowl in a couple of games. For that reason, they seem pretty keen on having that spin-bowling back-up.

What about Joe Root?

Yes, he does offer another spin-bowling option. Last year he delivered 10 overs for 44 runs in an ODI against Australia and his career economy-rate – 5.80 – is respectable. But he has bowled two overs in England’s 13 most-recent completed ODIs. It doesn’t appear they rate his bowling especially highly.

So one of the seamers will have to miss out?

That remains the likely scenario, but it’s not absolutely certain. The fact that Jofra Archer has been given time off to spend at home is revealing: you don’t give a man fighting for his place time off. He looks certain to be included in that 15-man squad now. Tom Curran might be the most vulnerable of the seamers now, but he will have a chance to impress on Tuesday and did well with bat and ball in Dublin.

If Dawson is still a selection possibility, shouldn’t he be playing now?

Maybe, yes. But that’s why this game is so important. Denly is going to be asked to bowl on a good wicket with short boundaries. If he does well, his place in the squad is probably guaranteed. If he has an absolute shocker, Dawson could be called up before the weekend.

That sounds a bit tough on Denly.

It does. But the World Cup is going to be played, on the whole, in such demanding, high-pressure circumstances. Bowlers are going to have to find a way to contain batsmen on these fine batting pitches and Denly will have to be able to cope with such pressure. David Willey was put under similar pressure at the Ageas Bowl on Saturday and came through well. International sport is a tough, competitive business.

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