Batting at number three, Hampshire and Kent each have a player who, between them, have two decades of experience with their clubs.
James Vince has spent nine years in the Hampshire first team while Denly is into the fourth year of his second spell at Kent, having started his senior career there between 2004 and 2011. Both were there in their respective club’s last List A finals: Vince found success in 2012; Denly didn’t in 2008.
After a terrific 2017 season in which he was voted player of the year, and given the captaincy in the pre-season Super50 competition in Antigua this winter, Denly was appointed vice-captain with Sam Billings named club captain.
Billings will captain in Saturday’s Royal London One-Day Cup final against Hampshire but has played — and skippered — just six matches thanks to IPL and England commitments, meaning Denly has spent much of the season so far front and centre.
“I don’t put too much pressure on myself in terms of England or international recognition,” he says. “For me it’s all about playing cricket for Kent, trying to score as many runs as I can and win games for Kent, and it’s going well at the minute.”
And how. Two Specsavers County Championship centuries in June go alongside his pair of centuries in the One-Day Cup — much needed runs after his pair in the opening Championship game and consecutive ducks in the first two One-Day Cup matches.
He’s become a useful legspin bowler, too, with ten white-ball wickets en route to the final. Denly acknowledges it’s too soon to call him an all-rounder but he’s happy to add more qualities to his game.
“I enjoy the bowling. I suppose it’s always easier when you’re captain to give yourself a few more overs, but I think certainly in white-ball cricket, legspin is quite a handy asset to have and I enjoy it. It makes fielding go a bit quicker.”
It’s been a decade since Kent reached a domestic final, a year more since they tasted victory in one. Denly featured in their 2007 T20 win and both limited overs finals defeats in 2008, and he’s desperate to have a better result this time around.
“It’s probably the best ground in the world in terms of history and everything like that, to get there again with Kent to another final is going to be a very memorable day. I think there’s a big difference between getting to a final and losing, it takes the edge off it a bit so [we’re] desperate to put on a good performance and carry on the very good cricket we’ve been playing and get a win.”
Vince, you would imagine, has fonder memories of his trip to the capital six years ago. He scored just 18 but his team secured a nail-biting victory over Warwickshire by losing fewer wickets with the scores tied. Yet he remembers very little of that day.
He reflects: “I remember the last over and Kabir [Ali] bowling and ‘Batesy’ [Michael Bates] up to the stumps. Kabir bowled a good yorker, Batesy took it and whipped the bails off and we ran round like idiots for five minutes. From then on the crowd, a lot of Hampshire fans packed over the far side, [we were] walking round with the trophy, everyone’s family’s there. It’s a special occasion.”
He had a frustrating winter with England. Despite three half-centuries during the Ashes and Test series in New Zealand, Vince was dropped ahead of the series with Pakistan last month — even after a Championship 200 the day before the squad announcement.
Since then, he has been in good form. His 109 in the final One-Day Cup group match wasn’t enough to see off Somerset, but an imperious 171 helped his side dispatch Yorkshire with ease in the semi-final. Saturday presents yet another opportunity to remake his case.
“I was obviously disappointed not to get more opportunity but I’ve just got to focus on scoring runs for Hampshire and see where it takes me,” he says. “The semi-final went pretty smoothly for us in all aspects, obviously a big score and then backed up well by the bowlers and the fielders.
“It’ll be a great occasion. Lots of people [will be] watching and I think, not just for me but, for young guys in our side that have got aspirations of playing for England, if you can do well in a Lord’s final it counts for a lot.”
Though they may not both be leading their side out on Saturday, Denly and Vince do think along similar lines. As the Hampshire captain puts it: “People remember finals.”
People certainly remember finals. But they don’t tend to remember the losers.