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NASSER HUSSAIN: Joe Denly must be ruthless and say: I’m being locked out of my body

NASSER HUSSAIN: Joe Denly must be ruthless and say: I’m going to be locked out of my body … he needs to get a big score to keep the youngsters at bay

  • Joe Denly was impressive, but has to turn his starts into big scores
  • At the age of 34, he has to tell himself that he has worked too hard to catch up with a young person
  • England is in a great position with so many options and Joe Root to return
  • It is crucial for Denly’s Test future that he has a strong streak against the West Indies

Not long ago, we all wondered how England would put together a top order worthy of the name. Now we wonder who’s going to miss it when Joe Root returns from paternity leave for next week’s second test against the West Indies.

That’s a good position for England, and it well reflects the approach of new coach Chris Silverwood and Root themselves. They decided to take a more old-fashioned approach, choosing men at the top who could build a platform for the strokemakers below.

And if you look at how England won those last three tests in South Africa, you have to say it worked.

Joe Denly has to get a big score with so much competition to get on the team

Joe Denly has to get a big score with so much competition to get on the team

Rory Burns seemed like an organized player before getting injured while playing football in Cape Town and Dom Sibley – after a slow start in New Zealand – was doing well with South Africa’s strong pace attack.

I was also impressed with his deliberate decision to lose some weight and keep track of his teammates’ condition. Andy Flower always said that because of the work you do off the field, you can be one step ahead of the next man if you make it. The cent has fallen for Sibley and that can only be a good sign.

Zak Crawley has grown rapidly and Joe Denly has spent a lot of time paving the way for people like Root and Ben Stokes. You should applaud all that, even if you try to work your way out.

Dom Sibley's commitment to lose weight is commendable and shows that the penny has fallen

Dom Sibley's commitment to lose weight is commendable and shows that the penny has fallen

Dom Sibley’s commitment to lose weight is commendable and shows that the penny has fallen

For me, it’s not as easy as saying that Wednesday’s first test is about Denly v Crawley. Sibley can’t afford to have a bad series and Burns hasn’t played serious competitive cricket at Centurion since Boxing Day. Because of his quirky methods, he has to sharpen his game as well as anyone else.

Yes, Root automatically returns. But Dan Lawrence van Essex is also waiting in the wings.

These are good problems for England. That said, Denly is now 34, and if left out of this side, it’s very hard to watch him get back in. I like what I have seen from him so far. Aside from a few times Australia has been hard on him with the short stuff, he always looked good as a test player.

Joe Root is still coming back and England has a nice selection headache

Joe Root is still coming back and England has a nice selection headache

Joe Root is still coming back and England has a nice selection headache

The biggest compliment I can give him came in Cape Town. The team was netting before the game and I went to see Root. Except it wasn’t Root: My eyes had let me down. It was Denly – who told me about the smooth rhythm of his batting.

But – and it’s a big “but” – he must be more brutal. He’s now had 26 tests, double digits in 22 of them and only hit 70 twice. He could look at it and say, “I’m 34. Every run I score is a bonus during this time of my career.”

I’d rather have him turn it around and say to himself, “I’ve been waiting a long time for this and I’m damned if I’m going to give my place to a young person now. I let them wait their turn. ‘

Denly strikes with a great rhythm and knows that he must be relentless in securing his position

Denly strikes with a great rhythm and knows that he must be relentless in securing his position

Denly strikes with a great rhythm and knows that he must be relentless in securing his position

Denly has to remind himself that he could do six tests this summer on two good batting tracks in Southampton and Manchester.

It is true that test selection is partly about investing in the future, and if voters find it difficult to separate Crawley and Denly, the second test will be in Manchester, then 22-year-old Crawley would represent that investment. Lawrence, who is 23 next week, must also be in the mix.

That’s why Denly has to be brutal and get a big score – both for the middle order and for his own future in this test team.

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