Joe Denly savoured every moment after producing a man-of-the-match performance on his return to the international stage after more than eight years away.
England have played 384 games since Denly last wore his country’s colours in February 2010, as a precocious top-order batsman who did not make the most of his chance but cannot have imagined the wait that lay in store for another.
That he was afforded a second opportunity is down to two things, his growing maturity as a player and person and his increasingly handy leg-spin – the latter having been little more than an afterthought in his early years.
Here in Colombo it was his strongest suit, with best-ever professional figures of four for 19 topping and tailing the Sri Lankan chase and easily trumping his contribution of 20 from number seven in the order.
“Never given up on that dream,” he said as he pondered his message to others who find themselves off the selector’s radar for extended periods.
“I certainly feel a different player to where I was back then and I came in with the attitude of embracing it and enjoying every moment of it.
“I was younger back then and probably didn’t know what to make of it all but being more experienced and playing in various competitions around the world has put me in a good position to step back into international cricket and perform like tonight.
“For me, the last eight years have had ups and down but, certainly for the last two or three years, I’ve enjoyed my cricket a lot more and played with a bit more freedom.
“I’ve learned to deal with failure a lot better. That helps. And dealing with those pressures outside the world of cricket stands you in good stead to perform and I think that showed over the last couple of years.”
Although it was Denly’s day England would not have reached a winning mark of 187 for eight without a dicey 69 from the bat of Jason Roy – which contained six sixes and four dropped catches in an eventful 36-ball stay.
Adil Rashid was also to the fore, bowling with supreme control to finish with three for 11 in four overs. He is set to play a central role in a three-match Test series played on turning pitches and Denly’s chances of joining him
and Moeen Ali in a three-man spin attack just rose sharply.
“There’s a spot up for grabs at the top of the order and I think being able to bowl might work in my favour,” Denly said.
“But it comes down to performing in the two warm-up games and putting your name forward for that first Test. I’m certainly going into those practice games looking forward to performing, scoring runs and giving myself the best chance.
“Performing here with the ball and chipping in with a little 20 down the lower order can only give myself confidence.”
England captain Eoin Morgan hailed Denly’s re-emergence as an all-round talent, telling Sky Sports: “This year at Kent, he’s almost had a bit of a Garry Sobers year, he’s done absolutely everything.”