International cricketers do not come much trickier than Dawid Malan, England’s opening batsman in this five-match T20 series against New Zealand. A fine fellow, yet pensive even by the standards of best batsmen.
Nothing is simple or frank as Malan strives for excellence. He has been Middlesex’s skipper for the last two years – and is now moving to Yorkshire. He hit a glorious Test century in Perth, right up there with the best innings played for England in Australia, but averaged only 20 in Tests at home and had to be dropped.
It somehow sums up the collision forces within Malan that when England’s squad gathered to watch the rugby World Cup final on television, he wore two shirts – a white one for England, the land of his birth, and a green one on top for South Africa, the land of his filiation.
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“It was clearly a tough one,” said Malan, disarmingly honest and likeable. “I grew up in South Africa and reinforced them as long as I can remember – so I sat firmly on the fence and didn’t support anyone.”
Life is not easy for precisian, especially perhaps for those who achieve it occasionally. Malan’s 140 at the Waca was watertight, an Alastair Cook-like triumph of how to play three shots all day – and England, with several Test batting berths unfilled, will be back there two years hence. Malan also fielded well in the slips on that tour – admirably, really – only to shell every other slip-catch that came his way in the home series against India last year, which contributed to his omission.
At the start of this T20 series Malan has endeavored to score a run a ball, yet he also unleashed such a perfect pick-up in the second game at Wellington that the ball rises out of the Westpac stadium, over the roof and into the old harbor area downtown. He can reach the stars, and is desirous to reach them again before the umpire calls time.
“I still want to play for England across all three set-ups,” Malan said. “I’m only 32 years old, so I’ve got a lot of good years ahead of me, it’s just up to me to perform. I’m still trying to improve; you never stop learning or stop improving as a batsman.
“My record in England is not as good as it should be in the Tests that I have played (Malan has been trapped playing half-forward), which is my fault, it is no-one else’s fault. Nonetheless that does not mean I cannot play Test cricket again. It is up to me now to score runs for Yorkshire and hopefully keep my name in the hat. Jonny (Bairstow) has been left out and there are a few other guys pushing for spots but there is no-one really nailed down apart from Rooty and Stokesy and Rory Burns who played unusually well in the Ashes.”
Malan gave a hint of inner turmoils when he talked about his two years of captaincy, which wind up in Middlesex finishing eighth out of ten in the second division of the championship – not an appropriate position for the county that has Lord’s for a home and won the third most championships. It seems there was a absence of communication when Stuart Law arrived as coach ahead of last season.
“I didn’t really know what was going on and what the plans were and so on, and that frustrated me. But you know Middlesex is a fantastic club, and run by outstanding people, and they are moving in the right direction.”
Malan even used, more than once, the phrase “banging my head against a wall” – implying that he wrestled with many forces inside himself, not that he fell out with Middlesex. “I have been skipper of Middlesex for two years, and I’ve been banging my head against a wall for a wee while. I did not really enjoy the cricket as much as I’d have liked to. I still done at domestic cricket, which I’m proud of myself for doing – with, as I said, knocking my head against the wall. But Middlesex have been outstanding to me, they’ve given me every chance, they’ve looked after me like a family.”
Yorkshire has never been the world capital of TLC, though Malan, before England vs South Africa match was hit by how keen Andrew Gale and Martyn Moxon, their head coach and director, are to win trophies. He has also been signed by Trent Rockets for the Hundred, although the amount – only £40,000 for a seasoned white-ball batsman – recommends a certain ambivalence, such as England’s selectors feel.
Meanwhile England’s T20 squad – almost a Development squad – have a five-match series to win against an almost full New Zealand side, with three of the games on rugby grounds of quirky sizes: only Hagley Oval in Christchurch, and Saxton Oval in Nelson, the third venue of this series, are normal cricket grounds. But Malan knows what it is like to be changed.
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