Joseph Liam Denly
March 16, 1986, Canterbury, Kent
Right hand Bat
Top order Batter
Chaucer Technology College
As Joe Denly himself remarked upon winning a recall for England's Test tour of Sri Lanka in 2018, "I went missing for a few years." Beyond his 30th birthday, his county career seemed to be slowly and respectably fading away. But that England call, legitimised by his peers as he won the PCA Players' Player of the Year award as well as topping the Most Valuable Player rankings, marked a wonderful renaissance.
Denly finished in the top two in Kent's batting order in all three formats and stood in as captain for much of the season for Sam Billings in his absences on IPL or England duty, helping Kent to a Royal London Cup final and, unexpectedly, promotion to Division One of the Championship after 11 seasons.
In two seasons, he had scored 14 centuries across the three formats, including nine in first-class cricket. The leg spin that removed South Africa's Graeme Smith with his first ball in international cricket - his only England wicket at the time of his recall - had matured, too: 57 wickets in the three competitions in 2018, a part-timer no longer. The anecdote that his former Kent captain, Rob Key, would never bowl him because he thought he was just a bored batsman in the field, was gleefully told all summer.
So, after an absence of eight-and-a-half years, Denly made his international return in a T20I in Sri Lanka. He claimed career-best T20 bowling figures (and the player of the match award) of 4-19, too, following with a Test debut - aged 32, he was the oldest specialist batsman to make a Test debut for England in nearly 25-years - in the Caribbean three months later.
And while he was not entirely convincing - he came within a whisker of suffering a pair on debut, benefiting from a dropped chance in the second innings and the tightest of umpiring decisions in the first - he underlined his versatility by opening the batting on debut and making 69 in his second Test from No. 3 to ensure his name remained in the frame for future selection.
So while he missed out on World Cup selection - he never looked a comfortable fit for the role of spinning all-rounder which Ed Smith, the national selector and very much a Denly champion, insisted he could fulfil - he retained his place in the Test side for the 2019 Ashes.
And while he struggled with the pace of an excellent Australian attack, he demonstrated admirable bravery and resilience in defying them at times. He made three half-centuries in the final three Tests, returning to the top of the order for the final two and falling agonisingly short of a maiden century (he made 94) at The Oval.
He first played international cricket in 2009. But though he had his moments, he looked vulnerable to the ball nipping back and was eclipsed by the emergence of Craig Kieswetter.
For eight years, those international ambitions seemed lost, a move from Kent to Middlesex failing to reignite his career, and in 2015 he returned to the county of his birth with considerable success. Remarkably, considering that Canterbury has been the county headquarters since 1870, Denly was held by the county's website to be the first capped player to be born in the town. Many words could be spent analysing the message that carried.
A product of the Kent youth system, having been with the county since the age of 13, Denly made his debut in 2004 against Oxford University. He served notice of his considerable talent with three half centuries in three Under-19s Tests whilst touring India with England in 2005. He captained both Kent 2nd XI and the ECB Development of Excellence XI team, and scored his maiden first-class hundred against Cambridge University in 2006. Then the release of David Fulton opened up a place in the Kent top order, which Denly took with both hands during the first part of the 2007 season. His prolific form caught the eye of England's selectors and he was named in the England Lions side to face India.
The 2008 summer again kept him in the frame, especially in one-day cricket, where he enjoyed an impressive T20 tournament. But it was in 2009, after averaging 51.85 in the Friends Provident Trophy, that Denly got his international call-up. He had his moments opening the batting, making half-centuries against Ireland and Australia and averaging 29.77 in nine ODIs. But he struggled for consistency, looking particularly vulnerable to the ball coming back into him, and, like many before him, then suffered a lengthy domestic slump after being dropped from the international side.
At one stage he went nearly two years without a Championship hundred. Sensing a need to revive his career he left Kent at the end of 2011 and moved to Middlesex. But his form continued to be patchy, and in 2014 he regularly found himself left out of the side, as he averaged just 23.35 in the Championship. In three seasons at Lord's, Denly hit only two centuries in all formats of the game. After he was released, he opted to return to Kent to try and reinvigorate his career, hoping to rekindle a highly effective partnership with Key, preparing for the challenge by playing domestic cricket for Brother Union in Bangladesh.
Denly's return to Kent was a satisfying one as he became one of only two Kent players to hit 1,000 Championship runs. That consistency was sadly lacking the following summer, although he did have a career-best 206 not out against Northants in May to sustain him and also won further attention in the following Championship game when he put family ahead of profession when he abandoned an innings against Derbyshire in Derby overnight to be at the birth of his first child.
With his 30th birthday behind him, Denly delivered the best season of his career in 2017, topping Kent's averages in both the Championship and Twenty20. His four Championship hundreds included his 182 against Leicestershire as he and triple-centurion Sean Dickson set a new county record of 382, and also a career-best 227 on a sweltering day at Worcester. In T20, nobody made more runs than his 567. 2018 followed the same pattern. Smith could resist the selection no longer.
Batting & Fielding