In his brief Test career so far, Joe Denly has impressed enough for some to suggest he could be England’s long-term No.3 in Test cricket.
There is a growing group of cautiously promising statistics demonstrating his value to the team. In eight of his last 12 Test innings prior to the Port Elizabeth Test, he had faced 100 balls or more, and been dismissed in single figures just three of his 24 Test innings. Only twice this winter had Joe Root arrived at the crease inside the first 24 overs at No.4.
However, a strike rate below 40 runs per 100 balls has demonstrated part of the reason why Denly is yet to make the big scores to truly cement his place, and he took slow scoring to new levels in the first innings at Port Elizabeth, reaching 13 off 83 balls at tea. Kevin Pietersen, on commentary for SuperSport, spoke of a game plan he had heard discussed for Denly to aim to face 100 balls each innings, without concern for runs scored or the game situation, and questioned whether that did disservice to Denly’s talents as a strokemaker.
“I’ve never heard it in any dressing room ‘go and take up 100 balls’, but the statistician across the way was pretty adamant that that was what he had heard,” Pietersen said. “I just don’t understand it. He plays the pull shot, he cuts so well, he drives. He played the most beautiful drive off Paterson earlier. You look at the position he gets into. You want to tell a guy who plays cricket shots like that that he’s got to go and waste 100 balls? No.
“With 450 overs in the game, I for one would want Joe Denly to play his natural way, as he has done. You have Root, You have Stokes, you have Pope, you have Buttler. He’s a No.3 that commands respect. You don’t want bowlers to run into Joe Denly and say, ‘You know what? I can bowl where I want to bowl because Denly’s going to block me for an hour.’ No, not at all. He’s a much better player than that.”
Denly was eventually dismissed lbw by Keshav Maharaj for 25 off exactly 100 balls, at the very least continuing one streak of centuries.