England 337 for 5 (Denly 103, Pope 70*, Burns 56) v South Africa A
Joe Denly rose above the sickness that has swept through the England camp, and cemented his No. 3 credentials with a well-crafted century on the opening day of the team’s final warm-up match in Benoni.
Denly was eventually run out for 103 from 192 balls, a solid innings featuring 15 fours and one that built on his steady displays in the New Zealand Tests last month. On his watch, England closed the first day on 337 for 5 – a decent work-out for a threadbare squad that has been gutted by a stomach bug in this past week.
Denly’s innings did not, however, count as his 30th first-class hundred, as the match had been downgraded to a friendly to allow England’s stricken players more time to recover – in particular Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad and Jack Leach, all of whom stayed back at the team hotel instead of travelling to Benoni.
It was, however, a chanceless display – Denly did not benefit from any of the four dropped catches that littered South Africa A’s fielding – and it showed tenacity too, as he was one of the many players who had been struggling going into the day’s play.
“I don’t think I’ve had it quite as bad as some of the boys, just a mild case of man-flu, so I’m alright now,” said Denly at the close. “It was quite a sapping heat out there today so I was a bit tired by the end, but I’ve loaded up on medication and vitamins and I feel alright now.”
England chose to bat first and were given a solid start to their day’s work when Rory Burns and Dom Sibley added 60 for the first wicket inside the first 20 overs. But the introduction of Andile Phehlukwayo broke the stand, as Sibley was bowled by his fourth ball of the day for 22.
Burns brought up a measured half-century shortly before lunch, but he was prised out by the second ball after the resumption, as Phehlukwayo found his outside edge on 56, for Kyle Verreyne to take a fine diving catch, one-handed to his left.
Joe Root didn’t hang around for long – he was the next to fall for 12, one ball after being dropped on the slog-sweep off Dane Piedt, as Nandre Burger found his outside edge for Reeza Hendricks to cling on at slip.
But Ben Stokes gained some useful time in the middle in a third-wicket stand of 82, although he too had a lucky let-off when he top-edged a bouncer to fine leg on 46. One run later, however, he took on Lutho Sipamla with a big mow down the ground, but failed to clear Dane Piedt at long-off.
His departure at 207 for 4 gave Ollie Pope a chance to spend some useful time in the middle, and he didn’t disappoint, showing impressive fluency in reaching 70 not out from 87 balls by the close, with Jos Buttler alongside him on 16.
Despite the reduced status of the match, Denly’s innings was his first century in England colours, a feat which didn’t go unnoticed, although he was simply pleased to be in a decent vein of form leading up to the Boxing Day Test.
“It’s nice to get that first one, obviously it’s not a Test match, but a hundred’s a hundred and in the couple of games I’ve played I’ve managed to spend some time at the crease, so I feel good,” he said. “There wasn’t too much seam movement for the bowlers and it was a slow wicket too so I took a bit of time to get used to the pace of the ball, but once you got in it was nice to play on.”
Asked about the likelihood of England’s ill bowlers featuring at any stage of the match, Denly said that he would have to defer to the team’s medical staff, but remained optimistic that they’ll be fit and ready for Boxing Day.
“I suppose it’s not ideal for those guys not to have taken part, but hopefully they’ve rested up well,” he said. “They’ve all played enough cricket to hopefully come back stronger over the next few days. They are on the mend, getting better each day, so we’ll see.”