Watch day one of the second #raisethebat Test live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 10.30am on Thursday
By Ben Kosky
Last Updated: 13/07/20 2:27pm
Two men of Kent, one England batting spot. Either Joe Denly or Zak Crawley looks certain to miss out when the second Test against West Indies begins on Thursday.
The pair are county team-mates and Denly presented the younger man with his England cap when he made his international debut in New Zealand last winter.
But the return of England captain Joe Root, who missed the West Indies series opener to attend the birth of his daughter, means one of the Kent duo will surely be sacrificed for the second Test at Old Trafford, live on Sky Sports Cricket.
England vs W Indies
July 16, 2020, 10:30am
Denly is widely tipped to be the man who makes way, but has Crawley yet made a cast-iron argument for selection?
DENLY – CASE FOR
Denly’s presence is a fairly strong guarantee of time at the crease. In fact, since his Test debut in Antigua 18 months ago, he has faced more deliveries than any other England batsman bar Root.
As well as the valuable role he can play in helping to wear down the new ball, Denly rarely fails altogether in terms of runs contributed – he has made only four single-figure scores during his 15 Tests.
Leaving aside his qualities as a batsman, Denly is generally seen as one of the better fielders in the squad and, in the right conditions, can also provide a useful bowling option with his leg-breaks.
DENLY – CASE AGAINST
Put simply, Denly has yet to post a big score in Test cricket. His best is the 94 he made in England’s second innings in the Ashes Test at The Oval last summer and he has added just one half-century since then.
In many ways, his second innings at Southampton summed up his Test career perfectly – having done all the hard work to reach 29 off 70 balls, he then poked an innocuous delivery from Roston Chase into the hands of midwicket.
At 34, it’s hard to view Denly as a long-term option in Test cricket – and the additional role he can provide as a second spinner is offset by the fact Root is more than capable of doing that job himself.
CRAWLEY – CASE FOR
Youth is very much on Crawley’s side – the tall right-hander is only 22 and, along with the likes of Ollie Pope and Dom Sibley, represents the generation of batsmen England are keen to build their team around.
His Test-best effort of 76 at the Ageas Bowl, assembled over the best part of three hours, suggested Crawley has gained in maturity since one or two more gung-ho performances in South Africa last winter.
Crawley has also shown evidence of his ability to construct significant partnerships – with Sibley in Johannesburg, he helped to put together England’s first century opening stand for three years.
CRAWLEY – CASE AGAINST
The No 3 slot has often posed a headache for England’s selectors and, while Crawley did bat there for most of his formative years, he actually has very little experience of the role at senior level, with Kent preferring him to open.
Although Denly has been criticised for failing to convert starts into centuries, Crawley’s county record is also unimpressive in that regard – he has managed only three tons from 42 first-class appearances.
It’s also difficult to argue he offers more in the field than his Kent team-mate, having made a hash of an opportunity to run out Jermaine Blackwood at the Ageas Bowl when West Indies were already in trouble during their run chase.
Former England all-rounder Dominic Cork, speaking on The Cricket Debate during the first Test, is convinced Crawley should get the nod ahead of Denly for Old Trafford.
“I’m not saying it’s the end for Denly – he’s still going to be around but it’s a simple decision for me,” said Cork.
“Crawley is too talented a cricketer to not play. He’s got to play for a long period of time.”
The chances must be that Denly will be the man left out in favour of Root – weight of runs does not support his inclusion – but, as Cork stressed, it would be unwise to jettison him entirely.
England are often too quick to cement certain players into the team and ring-fence their positions on little evidence. So far, Crawley has certainly not done enough to guarantee himself a place.
There is also a tendency to view all the national team’s selection issues through the prism of the next Ashes series – but, in the era of the world Test championship, that approach looks hugely flawed.
Crawley could yet develop into a key component of the side that attempts to win back the urn in 2021/22. For the moment, however, his name should remain pencilled rather than inked on the team sheet.
Watch day one of the second #raisethebat Test live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 10.30am on Thursday.