Joe Denly on England, the Ashes and making up for lost time
This time last year Joe Denly was preparing for a winter on the modern Twenty20 merry-go-round.
Now, 12 months on, he can reflect on a rollercoaster year that has seen this international late-comer frantically making up for lost time.
Denly is on the other side of the world for the first leg of England’s tour of New Zealand – a five match T20 series – before rejoining the Test squad for two Tests that could further cement his place at the top of the order alongside Rory Burns.
For an England side that has tried every conceivable opening pairing since Andrew Strauss’s retirement 2012 they make an odd couple.
Burns will turn 30 next year, while Denly is 33. Age is not on their side. What both men proved against Australia, though, is that they have the determination and strength of character to succeed at the very highest level.
A partnership of 54 in England’s final innings of the series of the Oval - the previous best of 27 was recorded by the same players in the first dig – offered hope that a solution to an almost decade-long issue was close to being found.
Although New Zealand’s bowlers are unlikely to make life any easier on their home patch next month.
“We get on really well actually,” says Denly. “Off the field he’s a great lad and I certainly enjoy batting with him.
“I’m not overly worried where I bat with England. I think at my age you can’t really be demanding where you want to bat for England in that top order.
“But Rory is good fun. He’s a pretty relaxed guy – not a lot fazes him. I’m pretty chilled as well so it seems to work quite well.”
Three half centuries in the final three Tests of the Ashes provided evidence of the huge strides taken by Denly since his debut against the West Indies at the turn of the year.
A hundred in his final innings of a series would have capped off his summer perfectly.
“I was gutted (to be dismissed for 94),” says Denly. “Looking back now I’m very proud to have got England in a position to win that match and having worked very hard for every single one of those runs.
“Looking back, though, to miss out on scoring your first international hundred in an Ashes series I’m disappointed. That would have been dream come true stuff.
“I had a bit of luck, Tim Paine and Mitch Marsh didn’t review an LBW when I was on 50 odd and I was dropped on nought as well. I would probably have taken 94 had you asked me before hand.
Denly will be looking to hit the ground running in New Zealand (Getty Images)
“It was an incredible series to be a part of. To be involved in such a compelling series was pretty cool. It ebbed and flowed and we had our opportunities in most games to win the Test match but unfortunately we got ourselves and then weren’t able to capitalise on those positions.
“More often than not it was one man – Mr Steve Smith – who managed to drag the momentum back for the Australians. We just couldn’t find a way of getting him out. I go back to the first game at Edgbaston. We were in such a good position – bowling first and getting them 112 for 8. We were flying and then (Peter) Siddle came in and blocked up an end and Steve Smith just continued on his merry way on a wicket that was spinning and deteriorating after day one.
“That proved to be a match winning innings In the first Test match of the summer it’s always important to get your noses ahead. It was pretty tough going from then on in.”
Smith eventually finishing the series with a monumental 774 runs from just seven innings – a tally that ultimately proved the difference between the two teams. Denly, meanwhile, scored 312 runs at an average of 31. Given the struggles of batsmen on both sides, it was a more than respectable tally.
And one that more than made up for missing the cut for England’s World Cup squad, a decision he believes set him up perfectly for what was to follow.
“I wouldn’t change the way my summer has gone,” he says. “The World Cup was incredible for English cricket. But not being involved gave me a great opportunity to go back and score some red ball runs for Kent and put myself in a great place for the Ashes series.
“Every English and Australian cricketer dreams of being a part of that growing up.”
After his late entry to Test cricket, Denly is determined to ensure that a summer to remember is a springboard to long-term success.