Joe’s Averages

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.

PlayerInnsRunsHSAveBFSRAv BPI
AN Cook361343244*38.37279748.0178
JE Root69281022641.32533252.777
RJ Burns30100913333.63225244.875
JL Denly277989429.55201639.5875
BA Stokes572123135*40.05388554.6468
DJ Malan2672414027.84176241.0868
MD Stoneman205266027.68118844.2759
KK Jennings26573146*22.92136741.9153
JC Buttler44135610632.28227959.4952
JM Bairstow56153411927.89279254.9450
CR Woakes27586137*24.41105855.3839
MM Ali407618419.51148151.3837
SM Curran307117827.34107466.236
MJ Leach182209218.3355439.7131
SCJ Broad564635610.2877259.9714
JM Anderson4280125.3331525.398
England batsmen, 9 July 2017 – 9 July 2020 (minimum 10 Tests). Source: ESPNcricinfo Statsguru

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.

Chris Read: the next England captain?

If it were awarded by a Twitter vote (“FAVE for Cook / RT for Bell”), there would be no question that Alastair Cook would not retain the England captaincy. Give it to Bell, is the popular cry. Hand it to Root, is the refrain of a smaller contingent.

Cook, of course, is safe, at least for the moment. The ECB have invested too much to discard him, and his determination, one of his positive leadership qualities, will prevent any imminent resignation: he will continue, for better or worse. We should, at least, be grateful that there is some consistency in assigning the captaincy these days, unlike in previous decades.

Meanwhile the natives are restless. Twitter citizens will continue to trumpet the perceived merits of Bell, Root, and even Broad.

There is, however, one name that has been largely absent from such speculations: Chris Read. A name that was mentioned more than once in the build up as a possible replacement keeper for Prior. But captain? Surely that’s a bridge too far.

It is, admittedly. The ECB have moved on from the days of parachuting in experience, preferring to train and nurture younger players on the job: an approach that, by and large, has been successful. Introducing a player knocking on the door of 36, more than seven years after his last Test, would smack of desperation on the part of the ECB: anathema to their current PR policy of ‘nothing to see here’.

Yet Chris Read’s appointment wouldn’t be as mad as it might first seem. These are unusual times. England have a uncommonly inexperienced team. Aside from Cook and Bell, none of the top 6 have played twenty Tests, and three have played fewer than five.

Firstly, Read now has tremendous experience as a county captain. Despite having received what many might consider a raw deal from England, considering his obvious talent, he has proven himself a tough individual who can cope with life’s knocks. After being essentially discarded by the national team in the aftermath of the calamitous 2006-2007 whitewash, he applied himself to his performances at Nottinghamshire, with great success. In 2010, he guided Nottinghamshire to the Championship title, which led him to the accolade of being named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. At the same time, his batting, regarded as a weak point, grew stronger, to the point where his first-class average from 2009 to 2013 is a healthy 38.45. Incidentally, Matt Prior, the incumbent, only averaged 35.70 in the same period.

Secondly, he would have little pressure to perform with the bat. He would come into a strong England batting line-up, where his main contribution would be expected to be with the gloves, not the bat. At the same time, he’d give England the chance of some feistiness at No. 7, which they have grown accustomed to from Matt Prior. Yet any runs he scored would be a bonus, not the measure by which his success would be judged. Unlike Cook, he wouldn’t need to be concerned about having to lead by example with the bat. With England batting deep, he could even drop down to No. 8 or 9, and give some lower-order stability.

Thirdly, he would have both knowledge of and, one would hope, backing from a key senior player: his Nottinghamshire teammate, Stuart Broad. Broad is not renowned – perhaps unfairly – for being easy to manage. Not only would Read know how to get the best out of him, but additionally a Read-Broad combination as captain and vice-captain could provide a strong axis around which the team could revolve and be steered. Keeper, strike bowler, batsman: with their joint experience of the key roles, together they could gain the feel for conditions that is so important for on-the-field tactics.

Chris Read won’t be given the chance to do any of this. England are looking firmly ahead, and who can blame them, with talent such as Buttler’s waiting in the wings? Read will therefore not get into, even just as keeper rather than captain, what is currently a mediocre international side. Funnily enough, though, he will get into a dream team. Tomorrow he’ll walk out at Lord’s to take his place in a stellar line-up: keeping for Brett Lee and Saeed Ajmal, batting in the same order as Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid, and working with some guy called Tendulkar.

It may be the last time he gets to show off his skills to the cricketing world at large. England’s loss may be MCC’s gain – just as it’s been Nottinghamshire’s.