Attack of the nerves! Joe Denly admits handing Zak Crawley his first England cap gave him the wobbles as veteran opens up on his Kent team-mate, Ollie Pope and series win in South Africa
- Joe Denly admitted his nerves when presenting the England cap to Zak Crawley
- The Kent veteran is one of the older heads in a youthful England dressing room
- Denly says fellow batsmen Crawley and Ollie Pope are ‘outstanding’ prospects
- The 34-year-old said England played some ‘incredible’ cricket in South Africa
Joe Denly admits his nerves almost got the better of him during this winter’s tour to South Africa.
Surprisingly, however, it happened not when he was facing up to fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada or Vernon Philander, but when he was about to present Kent team-mate Zak Crawley with his first England cap.
The 34-year-old Denly is now one of the older heads in a youthful England dressing room that, at times this winter, contained six players under the age of 24.
Among them was Crawley, who Denly has seen come through the Kent academy before graduating to county cricket and on into the England side. Which is why he didn’t want to fluff his lines for a moment that no England cricketer ever forgets.
Joe Denly admits he got nervous when he presented Zak Crawley with his first England cap
The 34-year-old Denly is now one of the older heads in a youthful England dressing room
‘It was a huge moment in my cricket career when I was asked to present him with his first Test cap,’ Denly told Sportsmail.
‘Normally, when you’re presented your England cap it’s from a former player who has played a lot for his country. But Joe Root asked me. What an honour that was.
‘To be honest, I was probably more nervous presenting him with his cap than I was when I walked out for my Test debut. It’s such a big deal for them and their family that you really want to get it right. In the end, thankfully, it was a lovely moment.
‘It’s been a while since Kent have had two players in the England side, you probably have to go back to when Geraint Jones and Rob Key played, so it’s great for the county. Above all, Zak is a top, top lad. I’m very proud to be playing alongside him at the start of his England career.’
Crawley’s performances in South Africa certainly suggest that he could be part of this England set-up for a long time.
Denly (R) said he is very proud to play alongside Kent teammate Crawley for England in Tests
His partnership at the top of the order with Dom Sibley laid the foundations for a series of convincing England batting displays — creating a platform for the likes of Surrey’s Ollie Pope to make hay once the shine had been taken off the ball. After scrabbling around attempting to find top-order batsmen capable of building an innings, England now appear to have a surplus of them.
‘You’ve got Zak and Ollie Pope who are both still only 22 — they’re two outstanding young cricketers,’ said Denly. ‘It’s exciting for English cricket, isn’t it? Zak got his opportunity through Rory Burns’ injury but I think everyone will agree that he looks every inch a Test cricketer.
‘I’m sure every England fan out there will be excited at watching those two players develop.
Denly believes England fans will be excited to discover how Crawley and Ollie Pope develop
‘What a player Ollie Pope is. His first-class record is absolutely phenomenal. I hadn’t played a great deal against him for Kent but having played with him in the winter and seeing the way he goes about his business — not just in games but also the way he trains and how he looks in the nets — he’s the full package.’
Denly himself continues to look the part for England without having kicked on to that big score which would truly cement his place in the side.
The closest he has come was his 94 in the final innings of last summer’s Ashes at the Oval but a run of five 50s in six Tests in 2019 suggests he has started to find his feet at the highest level.
Denly himself continues to look the part for England without having kicked on to that big score
As cricket, along with the rest of sport, goes into enforced hibernation, he can sustain himself with memories of some extra-ordinary England performances in the three Tests they have played so far this year.
Not least of those was their fifth-day triumph at Newlands in their first win over the hosts at the ground since 1957.
‘There was some incredible cricket in that South Africa series,’ he said. ‘That Cape Town Test was something else.
Denly maintains that England played some ‘incredible’ cricket during the South Africa series
‘I don’t think I’ve ever played in a game like that. It was a real old-school kind of Test that went down to the wire. It was phenomenal and then we had that end spell from Ben Stokes when he just blew them away.
‘It was pure elation at the end. You put a lot of hard graft into five days of cricket and to come out on top at the end was just sensational.’
Denly, like cricket fans up and down the country, will hope there are some more moments of magic to celebrate before 2020 is out.
Among the highlights there for Denly was Ben Stokes’ match-winning display at Newlands
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