As cricket gingerly limbers up and takes its first steps into its brave new bio-secure world, one might wonder that Joe Denly is still in it.
Another Test, another underwhelming return of 18 from 58. He is now averaging under 30 from his 16 Tests. Compton, Malan, and Vince were all returning similar figures (Vince actually a smidgeon over 30) when they were dropped, terminally in the case of Compton.
It is the manner of his dismissals that invites particular scrutiny: this time, bowled through the gate. He has been bowled or LBW five times in his last seven innings, suggesting a technical weakness is surfacing fast. Similar charges have been levelled against Bairstow – now out of favour – and unlike Johnny, Joe does not have the excuse of an excess of ODI cricket.
Why, then, does Ed Smith persist with ? Is it merely a case of loyalty or a soft spot for his old Kent mucker?
The following table should cast some light on why Denly may be valued as he is.
The key metric here is average balls faced per innings (BPI). Over the last three years, no non-opener has faced more balls per innings bar Root. Denly, despite his low batting average, is adept at soaking up deliveries, and his position in the top order means that he can lay a foundation for the stroke-playing middle order – not in scoring runs, but in blunting the attack and aging the ball. With potentially free-flowing players such as Stokes, Pope, and Buttler down the order, the value of this shouldn’t be underestimated.
For comparison, Compton’s BPI was 72, Malan’s 68, and Vince’s 63, meaning Denly compares favourably to all the discards. Bairstow languishes at 50 over the 3-year timeframe; Buttler, hanging on, is little better at 52.
Denly’s USP – to use a trendy acronym – is also his vulnerability. The problem for him is that his strength should, in theory, be pretty easy to replicate: it should not be so unique. As soon as England have a batsman who can simply stay there, regardless of scoring, his “unique selling point” evaporates.
The problem for England is that this apparently simple task has been beyond their batsmen of late. The new men may buck that trend; Crawley has a BPI of 56 from 4.5 Tests, but Pope a BPI of 72 from 7.5 – with that important “1” in the centuries column. As soon as either or both of them manage to both survive and score consistently, Denly’s place will be close to unjustifiable, unless by then he’s started scoring serious runs as well.
To mangle an old expression: it’s not about how many, it’s about how many.