After 3172 days on the sidelines, and having missed a whopping 384 international fixtures between call-ups, Joe Denly completed a remarkable return to England colours in the one-off T20I in Colombo.

For much of the afternoon, it had seemed as though Denly would be doing nothing more than pulling on his kit and watching, first, his team-mates, and then, the rain, ruin his big day. But, having made a somewhat laboured 20 from 17 balls after appearing at No. 7 in England's order, he confirmed the wisdom of his recall by producing a startling display with the ball.

Tasked with opening the bowling with his skiddy, accurate legbreaks, Denly conceded just three runs off the bat before dismissing Kusal Mendis with the final ball of his first over; then removed Niroshan Dickwella in his second, and claimed two more wickets in the final over of the innings to finish with career-best T20 figures of 4 for 19, and the Man of the Match award too.

Perhaps that should be no surprise, given he was already one of a select band of players to take a wicket with their first delivery in T20Is.

Further chances may well come for Denly this winter - he was, after all, an original pick for the three-match Test series that gets underway in Galle on November 6, rather than the injury replacement for the limited-overs leg of the winter, after Liam Dawson suffered a side strain midway through the second ODI.

Nevertheless, there was a pleasing symmetry to the format in which Denly made his return to the fray. Because, way back in the mists of time, in Dubai in February 2010, it had been Denly's performance in a T20 series against Pakistan that condemned him to an exile that, in terms of matches missed, is second only to the West Indies allrounder Rayad Emrit, and longer even than that of New Zealand's Jeff Wilson, who filled his own 344-match gap between appearances by forging a legendary 60-Test career as an All Blacks winger.

Denly himself had made a promising start to his England career at the end of the 2009 home season, scoring a matchwinning half-century on his ODI debut against Ireland in Belfast and, at the age of 23, he was presumed to be one to watch for the future - even if an untimely knee injury, courtesy of an Owais Shah football tackle at The Oval in September, had dented his progress a touch.

But, when England rocked up to the UAE en route to their tour of Bangladesh in early 2010, Denly became the fall guy in one of the more remarkable - and successful - selectorial U-turns of recent times.

With a T20 World Cup looming large on the horizon, it became catastrophically apparent to England's brains trust, Andy Flower and the then-T20 captain, Paul Collingwood, that the notion of opening the batting with Denly and Jonathan Trott simply wasn't dynamic enough to challenge the best teams in the world.

Denly, in fact, had launched his England T20 career with consecutive first-ball ducks against Australia at Old Trafford and South Africa at the Wanderers - at least he hadn't been dying wondering, you might argue. But when, against Pakistan in the UAE, he followed up with scores of 1 from 3 balls and 5 from 10 - taking his overall T20 record to an egregious 20 runs from 29 balls at an average of 4.00 - there was simply no mitigating such failures.

And besides, the most significant match of that brief stop-over in the Emirates had not been either of the two official internationals against Pakistan at Dubai, but rather England's warm-up against England Lions in Abu Dhabi earlier that week.

Trott (24 from 27) and Denly (4 from 3) were stunningly and comprehensively shown up by the Lions opening pair of Michael Lumb (58 not out from 35) and Craig Kieswetter (81 from 66 balls). Kieswetter, in fact, had just that very week completed his residency qualification to be considered for full England selection, and sure enough, he was fast-tracked, at Denly's expense, into the ODI side in Bangladesh the following month.

From there, the rest was history. Kieswetter and Lumb both made their T20I debuts in England's opening match of the World T20 in the Caribbean in May, and their gung-ho alliance was precisely what was required to unlock the team's potential. At No. 3, Kevin Pietersen thrived on the squad's change of attitude to produce a Man-of-the-Tournament display, and England powered to their maiden global trophy, beating Australia by seven wickets in a final in Barbados in which Kieswetter's 63 from 49 balls proved the decisive contribution.

As for Denly, well, his career has had to come full circle in the interim. He admitted last month that his career "went missing" for two or three years after his axing in the UAE, adding that he had to learn to "start enjoying his cricket again" before he could dare to dream of a recall.

It took a return to Kent, after a few enjoyable but unremarkable seasons at Middlesex, to unlock that latent ability that had put him on the radar a decade ago. And now, after what his England captain Eoin Morgan described as a "bit of a Garry Sobers year" in county cricket, which led to a sweep of trophies at this month's PCA Awards, he's back in the format where he thought it had all slipped away. And excelling with a string to his bow that had scarcely been acknowledged in those intervening years.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket