Joe Denly is not doing the job. But Joe Denly is doing a job.
Denly made a ball hundred in the third Test. The ball hundred is a term we coined for use in situations where you’re batting for a draw and ‘deliveries faced’ entirely supersedes ‘runs scored’ as a performance metric. A ball hundred is when you face a hundred balls.
Joe Denly faced 100 balls in Port Elizabeth and made 25 runs.
25 runs is not enough runs but 100 balls is enough balls.
Some people think Jonny Bairstow could replace Denly as England’s number three. This is interesting because Bairstow would probably make more runs and more centuries but the England team would quite possibly make fewer of each. It’s not often a selection choice breaks down like this.
Bairstow averages about 35; Denly 31. The former’s strike-rate is 55, while Denly’s is 39.
A higher strike-rate is almost always perceived to be a good thing, but in this case it probably isn’t.
Denly and Bairstow have batted in different positions in different matches and have different proportions of not outs, but even accounting for all that, the difference between them seems significant. Bairstow averages 59 balls an innings and Denly averages 80.
Let’s put it another way. Denly tends to bat for about half an hour longer than Bairstow. A proper half-hour too – a BBC no-adverts half-hour rather than a commercial broadcaster half-hour that turns out to be only 22 minutes when it winds up on Netflix a few years later.
Imagine this: An opener’s out early. Maybe soon afterwards the other one is too. Who do you want at the crease at this point? The guy who’ll make slightly more runs or the guy who’ll probably be there for half an hour longer?
A Test cricket ball lasts less than a day. It softens a pretty decent amount in 30 minutes. A bowling team’s enthusiasm also wanes when it isn’t regularly recharged with wickets.
An extra half-hour from a number three can have exponential effects. It can mean an extra half-hour or more from the number four too and a much easier situation for the number five.
England’s number five is Ben Stokes. A much easier situation for Ben Stokes is probably worth more than the four runs that separates the averages of Denly and Bairstow.
Joe Denly isn’t scoring many runs, but he’s doing a job. Joe Denly is England’s Baron of Balls.