Joe Denly has admitted he “went missing” for a couple of years after his last experience of international cricket.
Denly, the 32-year-old Kent batsman, played the last of his 14 matches for England (nine ODIs and five T20s) in February 2010 and accepts that, in the aftermath of being dropped, he struggled for equilibrium to the extent his “love of the game dropped” and his career was in decline.
At his lowest, Denly, who moved to Middlesex in 2012 but back to Kent – where he has a testimonial in 2019 – three years later, went through the 2013 and 2014 seasons without registering a first-class century and averaging in the low 20s.
Now, however, given a second chance with a call-up to England’s Test squad to tour Sri Lanka, he feels he is “much better equipped” to deal with the technical and temperamental demands of playing at the top level.
“I was certainly guilty, when I got dropped from England in 2010, of making everything about getting back in the team,” Denly said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to go and perform and score runs and get back in as soon as I could.
“And I went missing really for two or three years. My performances dropped. My love of the game dropped quite a bit. I went to Middlesex and had a great time at a great club, but my performances weren’t where I wanted them to be.
“It was a tough two or three years. It got to a point where I had to start enjoying it again because my career was almost fading away. Thankfully I moved back to Kent, started enjoying my cricket again and then started performing and scoring runs.”
While Denly has enjoyed two strong seasons in succession – he has made nine first-class centuries since the start of 2017, including one against Pakistan this year, and has just been named the PCA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2018 season (an award which brings with it a prize of £10,000) – he admitted he was not optimistic of winning a call-up.
“I thought it was a long way off, if I’m totally honest,” Denly said. “There’s some very good young players around the county circuit and my name was probably quite a way down the list at the beginning of the season. It was never at the forefront of my mind.”
But he feels his maturity and experience render him far better prepared to cope with the demands of international cricket this time around.
“I’ve a much better understanding of what works for me,” he said. “I certainly feel much better equipped and have a much better understanding, not just technically but of the pressures that come with it, and dealing with that on and off the field, not beating myself up too much.
“I was quite worried when I was younger about what people thought of me and how I looked. The belief wasn’t quite there.
“I probably put a bit too much pressure on myself. I probably thought too much about failure. If I had a bad net, I’d let that get to me. And if I didn’t score the runs out in the middle, I couldn’t switch off from thinking about it.
“Now I’m at ease with my game. Of course there’s always room for improvement but there’s certainly that belief there and I really can’t wait to get going.”