Allowing your head to rule your heart is difficult at the best of times, but the choice becomes even trickier for a professional sportsman contemplating a decision to part company with a club that has dominated half of his life.
That was the conundrum facing Kent’s one-time England limited-overs batsman Joe Denly this autumn as he weighed up the pros and cons of leaving Kent for fresh challenges with newly-promoted Middlesex.
“It was a very tricky decision to make,” said Denly. “My heart was telling me I wanted to stay at Kent for many years to come, but the sensible option for me, bearing in mind my aspirations to play for England again, was to move on.
“Money was never an issue. Kent offered me the contract they did because they felt I hadn’t scored the amount of runs they felt I should have. I hold no grudges and I’ve parted on amicable terms. I hope a lot of people there realise it was all about me wanting to do as well as I could in my career and to start enjoying the game again.
“Middlesex are a good club and, having just been promoted to Division One, I felt it was just the right thing for me to help start moving my career forward again.”
Born at the hospital overlooking the St Lawrence ground, Denly, somewhat incredibly, became the first Canterbury-born player to be capped by Kent.
Raised nearby in the seaside resort of Whitstable, Denly developed into the impish local lad with a winning smile, who just about everyone wished well to. His dashing batting style soon made him equally popular with the county cricket club’s membership.
After a traumatic debut in 2004 when he posted a golden duck in a rain-ruined early-season game in The Parks, Denly had to wait almost three years before he was given a realistic tilt at a run in the first team following the retirement of David Fulton.
Barring the occasional cracked finger or absence with England, the willowy right-hander spent much of the next five seasons cemented in as Rob Key’s opening partner.
Now 25, his love for Kent is engrained, making it tough to witness Kent’s financial plight and the exodus of players that followed over the past three seasons.
He added: “Last year, for the first time really, I felt I wasn’t really doing myself justice by staying and I wasn’t enjoying my cricket. I felt I needed a move to freshen things up again. It was the first time in my life I’d felt that way. I’d always loved playing the game since I was a kid, so to not enjoy training or playing was very disappointing to me. It was a very easy choice to make in the end.
“It was tough at Kent this year as the club are still going through a thin time of it financially. We all understood that, but the squad was so small that once we got a few early injuries we had no choice but to throw Kent Academy lads and even trialists into the mix.
“When you’re playing quality opposition week in, week out, with a patched-up side it makes it really tough. It was hard at times to forget what was going on around you and go out there and do yourself or the Kent supporters proud.”
Rather than face the rigours of a daily commute from Thanet to Lord’s, Denly and his partner Stacey are in the process of scouring the rental market for a flat in St John’s Wood before he gets down to the nitty-gritty of cementing a place in the Middlesex top-order and rekindling his international aspirations.
Since his last England appearance in February 2010, burgeoning young batsmen like Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Tom Maynard have emerged from the county ranks, pushing Denly even further down the pecking order. It is a situation he felt could no longer be tolerated.
“Wanting to play for England again was the main reason for me moving,” added Denly. “Seeing all these young guys coming into the various England squads was frustrating and a real eye-opener. It made me realise that my career at Kent had pretty much come to a stop, so I felt moving away could only be a positive.
“Middlesex have a big squad with a good mix of senior pros and young talent. I felt the next five to ten years at Middlesex would be good to be part of. I’ve spoken a lot with Angus Fraser and have a close friendship with ‘Dex’ (Neil Dexter) which also helped make my mind up for me.
“There will be a lot of competition for the top five batting slots too, with Sam Robson, Paul Stirling, Scott Newman, Dawid Malan, ‘Dex’, Chris Rogers and myself all pushing for a place. That has to be good for everyone.
“I’ve no qualms with dropping down the order to three or four and I’ve already spoken with Middlesex about it, but deep down I’ve always been an opener and that’s where I’d prefer to stay.”