The PCA Players” Player of the Year Award in 2018. An IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders. An England Test call-up. A brilliant 2018 Vitality Blast T20. While the careers of many cricketers enter a twilight phase after the age of thirty, there are some others, who tend to discover new avenues of success when they are expected to begin planning for their post-playing days.
England”s Joe Denly belongs to the latter category, a category exemplified by names like Michael Hussey, Ryan Harris, Chris Rogers and Saeed Ajmal in the past. While Australia have traditionally been a practitioner of such a selection policy, which involves preferring ripeness to inexperience for the national side, there haven’t been many English cricketers in the recent past, who despite being left out of the national side in their mid-twenties, have stormed back into international cricket with loads of runs, wickets and accolades to justify their comebacks. One other name, which springs to mind (apart from Denly) is Liam Plunkett, who returned to international cricket after a hiatus of seven years in 2014, at the age of twenty-nine.
Dropped from the national side a decade ago, Denly returned to the international fold with his Test debut against West Indies in January 2019. The 2018-19 domestic season was the breakthrough season for the
thirty-three-year-old, as he amassed 1,749 runs and took 57 wickets across all formats.
Given his irrepressible rise in recent times, it was difficult for any of the eight IPL franchises to not consider handing him a contract, and eventually, it was Kolkata Knight Riders, who picked him up for his base price of Rs 1 crore at
the last auction.
Denly arrived in Kolkata just a few days ago to join the KKR squad and he admits that he is already in love with the city and the team management. In this exclusive conversation with cricfit.com correspondent Ritam Basu, the leg-spinning all-rounder from Kent reflects on his breakthrough season, speaks on his evolution as a bowler, and declares that he is ready to bat in the middle order for KKR if the team needs him to do so, despite being a top-order player.
Q: You are one of those cricketers, whose careers have taken off after crossing thirty. What aspect of your game do you think you have now, which you didn’t have ten years ago?
Denly: That’s a very good question. I think just having a really good understanding of my game and what works well for me—not only technically, but the pressure of being an international cricketer and playing in different T20 competitions around the world [has helped]. It helps you mature as a player and enables you to understand what you need to do to perform at the top level. I think over the last few years, I have certainly been able to understand these things better and my performances prove that.
Q: You received the PCA Players’ Player of the Year award and won an IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders last year, and earlier this year, you made your Test debut for England. Has the past one year been a dream run for Joe Denly?
Denly: The past twelve months have certainly been very dreamy (laughs)! Firstly, to get the Players’ Player award was an amazing achievement, and then to get the Test call-up…I think every person, who aspires to be a cricketer, dreams of playing Test cricket, so that was amazing, too! And then to top it off, to have been picked by Kolkata Knight Riders to play in the best T20 competition in the world (heaves a sigh)…the past one year has been absolutely incredible!
Q: KKR have a settled top order, with Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn and Robin Uthappa generally comprising the top three. You, Joe, obviously like to bat at the top of the order. In case the team needs you to bat in the middle order and finish off games, would you be fine with that?
Denly: Absolutely! I have mostly batted at the top of the order in my career, but recently while playing T20 internationals for England, I batted in the middle order, batting at five. So, if the need arises, I will be more than comfortable to bat in the middle order, or, even chip in as an all-rounder for KKR.
Q: England are being touted as one of the favourites for the forthcoming World Cup. Do you think home advantage is going to be a major plus for England heading into the tournament?
Denly: I think so. Playing at home in front of the home fans will be very exciting. We obviously know the conditions very well, so hopefully, we can use it to our advantage. Having said that, there will be a lot of other good teams at the World Cup. The favourites tag means nothing. It will all depend on how we perform.
Q: There was a time when you were considered a part-time bowler, but in the 2018-19 county season, you picked up 57 wickets. How have you brought about this transformation in your bowling?
Denly: I’ve always enjoyed bowling. In recent times, I’ve been working a lot harder on my bowling. Last season, I got the opportunity to bowl a lot of overs, so I think that has been a big reason behind my success with the ball. I am trying to improve myself as a bowler every day. Given the dominance of leg-spinners in international cricket of late, I think having a leg-spinner in your side is a handy asset to have. Hopefully, I can take some wickets for KKR as well.
Q: Last question, Joe. How has your experience been in Kolkata and with KKR so far?
Denly: Very enjoyable. I have been here for only two days, but Kolkata is an amazing city! I am actually looking forward to going out and exploring the famous tourist attractions of the city. As of now, I am just trying to get over the jet lag (laughs)!