Joe Denly checks in early as England ponder slowing down the attack

Ali Martin in Kandy
The Guardian
Joe Denly arrived in Sri Lanka as an injury replacement 10 days early but is hopeful of playing in the short-form games before the three-Test series begins.

Joe Denly checks in early as England ponder slowing down the attack

Joe Denly arrived in Sri Lanka as an injury replacement 10 days early but is hopeful of playing in the short-form games before the three-Test series begins.

Joe Denly has joined England’s one-day tour of Sri Lanka and will compete with Sam Curran for a place in the XI on Saturday, as the management consider taking pace off the ball as they look to wrap up the series.

On Wednesday Eoin Morgan’s side took a 2-0 lead with two games to play thanks to a dominant seven-wicket victory at Pallekele in a match that was reduced to 21 overs a side due to rain. But despite their obvious superiority over the home side the team may be tweaked regardless.

Tomorrow’s fourth one-day international is at the same venue (a day game that should hopefully produce more cricket before any afternoon storms) and England are pondering whether to use Denly’s leg-spin or the left-arm medium of Sam Curran given the surface they encountered in midweek.

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The new-ball pairing of Chris Woakes and Olly Stone – central to the victory in Dambulla – proved easier to score off in Sri Lanka’s 150 for nine, both going at eight or more an over, while the spinners and those with more variations at their disposal offered Morgan greater control and wicket-taking threat.

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Tom Curran, granted his first appearance since March after Liam Dawson’s tour-ending side injury, picked up three for 17 by varying his speeds masterfully and Adil Rashid overcame a greasy ball for figures of four for 36; Ben Stokes, though wicketless, also mixed it up for an economy rate of five an over.

While the younger Curran appeared to have the edge two days out, Rashid’s success means Denly should not be discounted for what would be a 10th ODI cap but a first for nine years.

Though a batsman primarily, the 32-year-old’s bowling has improved considerably and he arrives fresh from his all-round performances for Kent in the summer, for which he landed four awards at the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s end-of-season bash. Indeed Denly insists the aim now is to become known as a genuine all-rounder. After arriving at the team hotel in Kandy on Wedneaday, one of the first team-mates he bumped into was Moeen Ali, who has risen from part-timer to mainstay of the bowling attack.

“We used to play England Under‑19s together and we used to take the mick out of each other’s bowling,” said Denly. “We were both batters back then. We used to roll our arms over in the nets – I thought I was better than Mo, he thought he was better than me.

“It is funny how things have changed. He has gone on and played over 50 Tests and God knows how many one-dayers and T20s, taken lots of wickets and is a genuine all-rounder – probably one of the best in the world. He is certainly an inspiration not just for me but for a lot of people, I am sure. He is a fantastic cricketer.”

Denly’s arrival comes 10 days earlier than expected, having originally been named in the Test squad only, despite the white-ball formats being his most profitable of late. Were he to crack this England one-day team – no mean feat given the resources – it would likely see him down the order, a far cry from his role at Kent where in both the Royal London Cup and the T20 Blast the right-hander has been an aggressive opener.

Second oldest in the squad after Liam Plunkett, who has also joined the trip but may be held back a little longer, Denly also looks a sound bet to impress his teammates in their all-important football warm-ups given he was once on Charlton Athletic’s books.

It was during his first spell with England in 2009 that a tackle delivered by Owais Shah on Denly led to a knee injury and saw the pre-training ritual outlawed for a spell. “I’ve heard a lot about that,” he said. “A few of the lads said I ruined their football – the best part of the day. Thankfully it is back in now and hopefully no more injuries. I have got a good scoring record with Kent so hopefully I can continue that with England.”

Asked if his call-up was proof players should never give up, Denly added: “I suppose so. I am only 32 and feel that my best years are still ahead of me. I have never given up on the dream of playing for England again.”

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