Root replaces Denly at No. 3 for Ashes opener

Updated July 31, 2019

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BIRMINGHAM: England cricketers undergo physical exercises during an indoor training session at Edgbaston on Tuesday.—Reuters
BIRMINGHAM: England cricketers undergo physical exercises during an indoor training session at Edgbaston on Tuesday.—Reuters

BIRMINGHAM: Joe Denly confirmed on Tuesday that he would drop to number four in the batting order for England’s opening Ashes Test against Australia, with captain Joe Root replacing him at number three.

Root has previously made clear he prefers batting at four but the Yorkshireman is understood to have approached England coach Trevor Bayliss after last week’s Test win over Ireland about returning to his old position when the Ashes opener starts at Edgbaston on Thursday.

Although England beat Ireland by skittling out the visitors for 38 in their second innings at Lord’s, they only managed 85 all out themselves in their first innings.

Bayliss has long wanted Root, England’s best batsman, to bat at number three following a succession of top-order collapses that have seen the skipper walking out to bat at four when two cheap wickets have fallen.

Root averages 48 at number four in the order but a shade over 40 when batting at number three.

But with England openers Jason Roy and Rory Burns having played just eight Tests between them, the logic in having 81-Test veteran Root bat at number three is clear.

Denly, speaking at Edgbaston on Tuesday, said: “Joe Root will bat at three and I’ll be batting at four. He rang me the other day and told me he wanted to bat three and for me to go in at four. I think Rooty just wanted to get involved in the game, get up there and get out in the middle.

“I’m very excited. I wasn’t too fussed where I’d be batting, it’s just great to be in the eleven. I’ve batted at four before for Kent and throughout my career, so it really wasn’t a big issue,” he added. “I’m just happy to be playing.”

Denly may be 33 but the Kent batsman has played just three Tests and this will be his first Ashes series.

He had a brief stint as a limited-overs international a decade ago but it seemed Test cricket had passed him by.

However, a return to form and the arrival of his former Kent teammate Ed Smith as national selector saw him given a Test debut against the West Indies in Antigua earlier this year.

“Everyone from a young age dreams of playing in an Ashes series and to finally get that chance, being quite an old campaigner, I’m certainly excited and up for the challenge,” said Denly.

“There’s no doubt that the Austra­lian bowling line-up is one of the best in the world. They have all bases covered really and, as a top-order batter, that is where you want to be, testing yourself against the best.”

Denly just missed out on a place in England’s triumphant World Cup squad, being replaced by Hampshire spinner Liam Dawson, who did not play a game.

“I think it was the right decision,” he said. “I thought it might happen and it was a great opportunity for me to go back and play some red-ball cricket with Kent and get some good form going into this series.”

Root has batted at three in 41 of his 149 Test innings, averaging 31 compared to 46 at number four. He has also opened the batting on a few occasions.

Rory Burns and one-day run machine Jason Roy are expected to open the batting against Australia’s fearsome pace attack on Thursday. They are England’s eighth different opening partnership in the past three years and the 16th since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2019