IF you’re good enough, you’re old enough, or so the saying goes.
In the case of Joe Denly, however, 34 next month, the opposite attitude is perhaps more appropriate.
Denly may be old in a cricketing sense (he will turn 37 during the next World Cup) but, on the evidence of his career-best 87 in Cape Town yesterday, he is still good enough too.
It remains to be seen whether the Kent man is part of England’s plans for that next World Cup in India in 2023, but just as youth is no barrier if a player is talented, then neither is veteran status necessarily a handicap – if you’re good enough, you’re young enough, if you see what I mean.
Denly’s selection is certainly curious, however, if England are not planning to factor him into their thinking for that competition, with this three-match series in South Africa effectively marking the beginning of their journey towards it.
Denly was left out from the preliminary squad chosen for last year’s World Cup and is only playing now because Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes are being rested (Stokes still managed to draw the biggest cheer of the day at Newlands yesterday, incidentally, when he walked around the boundary on his way back from a net session).
But without Denly’s fighting innings, made from 103 balls with six fours and two sixes, England would not have got anywhere near to 258-8 after being sent into bat, South Africa then cruising home by seven wickets with 14 balls to spare on the back of 107 from new captain Quinton de Kock and 98 from Temba Bavuma, the pair sharing a decisive second-wicket partnership of 173.
For in company with Chris Woakes, who contributed 40 to a seventh-wicket stand of 91, Denly rescued the tourists from 131-6 and the threat of an even more bruising defeat after openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow had shared 51, the tourists losing regular wickets on a slow pitch perhaps not best suited to their power-packed line-up.
The pitch wasn’t best suited to the less powerful, more accumulatory Denly either but the match situation was perhaps tailor-made for it, with three-fifths of the England side out already and backs firmly against the wall when Woakes joined him at the crease in the 28th over.
Denly played it more like a Test innings, in fact, working the ball around intelligently to start with before cutting loose later on, making sure, first and foremost, that England did not commit the cardinal sin of failing to bat their full 50 overs.
Thanks to the Twitter feed of Andrew Samson, the BBC Test Match Special statistician, it can be revealed that Denly had gone 3,789 days since his last ODI half-century against Australia in 2009.
If that highlighted a lack of appearances/opportunities as opposed to a string of low scores longer than your arm, there is nevertheless something admirable about the way that Denly – despite not having completely convinced at Test level since his return – is proving that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.
With England fielding a much-changed line-up (others not playing included Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali), not too much should be read into this result, although one rarely sees England hammered so heavily in the 50-over format.
In truth, they played poorly and failed to adapt to conditions in their first one-day international since lifting the World Cup in a series which, equally truthfully, does not feel particularly significant considering that the main white-ball focus is on the forthcoming three-match T20 series in South Africa which serves as preparation for the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
That is not to say that there was any lack of effort from Eoin Morgan’s players, however, or to diminish the fine achievement of a South African team in significant transition.
One cannot watch the Proteas these days without reflecting on the reality that they have seemingly more quality in their backroom staff – albeit of the now retired variety – than out on the field, with Messrs Kallis, Smith and Boucher a sharp reminder of more successful times past.
That said, they do have one oustandingly talented player in de Kock, whose 15th ODI hundred took him past 5,000 runs in the format on his 116th appearance (average mid-40s).
The 27-year-old has a swashbuckling blade and a face that would not have looked out of place in the Spanish Armada, perhaps, and he adapted to conditions much better than every English batsman apart from Denly, with Bavuma providing accomplished support.
There were no wickets for the Lancashire leg-spinner Matt Parkinson on debut, or many runs from the Somerset debutant Tom Banton, who made 18, but both are exciting talents who will surely have a big part to play in 2023.
Whether the same can be said of Denly remains to be seen.