Dawid Malan seeks England perfection again after two years of turmoil

The Telegraph

The Telegraph

Author 2019-11-04 20:30:00

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International cricketers do not come much more complicated than Dawid Malan, England’s opening batsman in this five-match T20 series against New Zealand. A fine fellow, yet introspective even by the standards of elite batsmen.

Nothing is simple or straightforward as Malan strives for perfection. He has been Middlesex’s captain for the last two years - and is now moving to Yorkshire. He hit a superlative 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 conflicting forces within Malan that when England’s squad assembled 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 parentage.

“It was obviously a tough one,” said Malan, disarmingly honest and likeable. “I grew up in South Africa and supported them as long as I can remember - so I sat firmly on the fence and didn’t support anyone.”

Life is not easy for perfectionists, especially perhaps for those who achieve it occasionally. Malan’s 140 at the Waca was watertight, an Alastair Cook-like masterpiece 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 - perfectly, 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 struggled to score a run a ball, yet he also unleashed such a perfect pick-up in the second game at Wellington that the ball soared out of the Westpac stadium, over the roof and into the old harbour area downtown. He can reach the stars, and is desperate to reach them again before the umpire calls time.

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“I still want to play for England across all three formats,” 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 isn’t as good as it should be in the Tests that I’ve played (Malan has been trapped playing half-forward), which is my fault, it’s no-one else’s fault. But that doesn’t mean I can’t play Test cricket again. It’s 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’s a few other guys pushing for spots but there’s no-one really nailed down apart from Rooty and Stokesy and Rory Burns who played exceptionally well in the Ashes.”

Malan gave a hint of inner turmoils when he talked about his two years of captaincy, which culminated 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 lack 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 fantastic 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’ve been captain of Middlesex for two years, and I’ve been banging my head against a wall for a wee while. I didn’t really enjoy the cricket as much as I’d have liked to. I still performed 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 fantastic to me, they’ve given me every opportunity, they’ve looked after me like a family.”

Yorkshire has never been the world capital of TLC, though Malan was struck 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 sum - only £40,000 for a seasoned white-ball batsman - suggests 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 dimensions: 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 different.

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