England’s Joe Denly will attempt to subdue thoughts of Ashes and focus on the West Indies

England's Joe Denly in action, facing the West Indies' Shannon Gabriel, during the second Test in Antigua (Picture: Ricardo Mazalan/AP).
England's Joe Denly in action, facing the West Indies' Shannon Gabriel, during the second Test in Antigua (Picture: Ricardo Mazalan/AP).
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Joe Denly is out to prove he is more than a short-term fix for England ahead of what could be his last chance at an Ashes audition.

The 32-year-old made his Test debut in place of Keaton Jennings last week, the oldest specialist batsman to do so for England in the 21st century, but could not prevent a fearful thrashing by the West Indies.

Joe Root’s side were routed in three days to lose the Wisden Trophy with a game to spare, while Denly’s modest scores of six and 17 might easily have been worse.

He could have made a pair of ducks in Antigua with a highly fortuitous lbw decision in the first innings and a dropped catch in the second sparing him the ignominy.

England will be looking to salvage some pride in the third and final Test, starting in St Lucia on Saturday, but for Denly the stakes are even higher. Fail and his flirtation with the five-day format could be over before the first ball of the domestic season; succeed and he could find himself lining up against Australia later this summer.

“Playing in an Ashes series is an absolute dream and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it a little bit,” he said.

“Obviously with the opportunity I have in the next Test it is there, but it is important to try and not think about it as much as possible.”

He added: I need to have a real focus on trying to get a score in this next Test and prove to those guys who think I am a stopgap, makeshift opener that I have got a future as an opener in Test cricket.

“I hope they (England) see a future in me opening the batting in Test cricket. It’s a great opportunity for me to try and make that position mine.”

Denly first made the international stage nearly a decade ago, playing a handful of one-day and Twenty20 matches before slipping off the radar entirely.

He eventually re-emerged as a useful all-rounder in the shortest format and gained wider exposure after being picked up by Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash.

He completed his rise last year, scooping a glut of post-season awards with Kent and starting his road to a long-awaited Test call.

This broad range of experience allows Denly to take setbacks on the chin and the soft manner of his two dismissals in the second Test – caught chasing a harmless wide from Alzarri Joseph and clean bowled offering no stroke – are not varnished over.

This means acknowledging umpire Chris Gaffaney “did me a favour” on nought, confessing to an edge “with the toe-end of my bat” and critiquing his own calamitous leave.

“That’s the only disappointing thing looking back on my debut – (getting out to) a rank long hop and then not playing a shot – pretty frustrating,” he said.

“I spoke to (former Kent team-mate) Rob Key a few days ago and he said he doesn’t remember anything about his first Test innings, but I remember quite a lot.”

Denly was all but promised two matches when he was drafted into the side, though Jennings could conceivably return if Ben Foakes’s bruised hand heals slowly.

That means another chance to challenge himself at a level he recognises as considerably higher than the second tier of the Specsavers County Championship, where he made his runs in 2018.

“Sometimes in Division Two you get one or two good bowlers and then you might get the opportunity to score more easily when you get through the tricky periods, but in Test cricket you are tested the whole day and you have to be at the top of your game throughout,” he said.

“Coming into the side and speaking to people about Test cricket, you can survive and get through periods, but the trick is being able to score at the same time and the West Indies attack certainly challenges that theory.”