Joe Denly is taking inspiration from teenage friend and England team-mate Moeen Ali as he attempts to complete his remarkable reinvention as an international all-rounder.
Denly was back home in Canterbury preparing for next month’s Test series in Sri Lanka – his first England call-up of any kind in more than nine years – when news of Liam Dawson’s injury broke and he was added to the limited-overs squad too.
The 32-year-old touched down in Kandy on Wednesday and has an unexpected chance to press his claims in all three formats in the coming days and weeks – starting with Saturday’s fourth ODI, when victory would seal the series 3-0.
A specialist batsman occasionally indulged as a part-time leg-spinner for the vast majority of his playing days, Denly’s productivity with ball in hand spiked in 2018 with 57 wickets in all formats for Kent.
In the previous 13 seasons he totalled a combined 75 and his old county captain Ed Smith, now England’s national selector, was paying close attention.
“I certainly wouldn’t have thought a couple of years ago I’d be selected for England as an all-rounder,” Denly admitted.
“I’ve become a lot more confident and it’s something I really enjoy doing. It’s about trying to develop that even more now and be known as more than just a batter who bowls a bit.”
If that story sounds familiar, it is because England’s most reliable spinner of recent times has a similar tale to tell.
Moeen Ali was first picked to fill the void left by Graeme Swann when he still considered himself a top-order batsman by trade but, after four years and 234 international scalps, his all-round credentials are settled.
“I was talking to Mo yesterday about when we used to play England Under 19s together…we used to take the mick out of each other’s bowling,” said Denly.
“We were both batters back then. We used to roll our arms over in the nets but I thought I was better than Mo and he thought he was better than me.
“It is funny how things change. He’s probably one of the best in the world now. He is certainly an inspiration, not just for me but for a lot of people.”
Denly’s relationship with Smith goes back even longer. When he made his first-class debut in 2004 Smith was a senior player at Kent, even replacing the young opener at the crease after he bagged a first-ball duck.
That did not hinder Smith’s long-term view of his talent, though, and he spoke effusively about his “touch of class” during the Test squad announcement last month.
“I suppose it’s not what you know but who you know!” joked Denly.
“I haven’t been in touch with him a great deal since he finished playing, but there is a bit of history there. It is nice that he thinks that highly of me.”
Denly also revealed he intended to take part in England’s traditional football warm-ups despite suffering a knee injury in a heavy tackle from team-mate Owais Shah back in 2009.
The incident led to then coach Andy Flower clamping down on the game but, fortunately for Denly, the ban did not last.
“I’ve heard a lot about that too, a few of the lads saying I ruined their football,” he recalled.
“Thankfully it is back in now and hopefully no more injuries. I have a good scoring record with Kent so hopefully I can continue that with England.”