It speaks volumes for the current strength of England’s white-ball set-up that the world’s No.1-ranked T20 batsman may not be guaranteed a starting berth when their three-match series against South Africa gets underway in Cape Town next week. But as a man who has become accustomed to waiting for his opportunities and seizing them when they arise, Dawid Malan insists that the accolade counts for little given the strength of options available to Eoin Morgan and the selectors.
“It is something I will probably enjoy more when I have retired,” Malan told reporters via a Zoom link from England’s training session at Newlands. “It is not something I am really looking at right now. It doesn’t guarantee runs, it doesn’t guarantee you a spot in the team. It’s something that, the day I retire, I will look back on it with fond memories.
“But the higher your rankings in anything, the more you are looked to and the more pressure that is on you. That’s something I am trying to not let affect me, by not worrying where I am in terms of No. 1, or 20, or 100 in the world.”
Malan attained his ranking last summer, leap-frogging Pakistan’s Babar Azam on the back of an astonishingly consistent run in the 20-over format. He goes into this series, which will include a fixture on the Boland Park ground in Paarl where he made his first-class debut in 2006, with a haul of 682 runs at 48.71, including seven fifties and a hundred, as well as a strike rate of 146.66 that compares favourably with each of England’s nominal first-choice top three, Jos Buttler, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow.
“I can only do what I can do,” Malan said. “I can’t control selection. All I can do is put in the work in the nets and, if I get the opportunity to play, keep scoring as many runs as I can to put pressure on the guys that have the spots. Every opportunity is gold when you are trying to break into this team. I can only do what I can control and if that’s good enough at the end of the day, then I hope it is good enough.”
Malan has been a fixture in each of England’s last seven T20Is, dating back to the final match of their last tour of South Africa in February, and including all six of their home internationals against Pakistan and Australia last summer.
However, his route back into the side was helped by the absences of Roy, who was injured, and Ben Stokes, who spent the latter half of the summer in New Zealand on compassionate leave, and he recognises that the pedigree of such returning players may yet leave him on the fringes once more.
“I have no idea,” Malan said, when asked if he would be starting the series. “I’d like to say I am but I have no idea. That’s a question for the selectors, the coaches and Eoin Morgan. I’d like to, but I’ll leave that to them to make that decision.
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“I think everyone has to work to play for England,” he added. “I don’t think it’s ever just given on a plate. If you look at the limited opportunities I’ve had since I was in the first Twenty20 squad in 2016, I’ve only played 16 games. You obviously look back and think you probably didn’t get as much of a run, but that’s understandable because of the quality of players England have had – they won a World Cup and been absolutely fantastic.
“The opportunities you get are like gold and you have to capitalise on those opportunities every time to be able to stay in the squad. The most important thing is being part of the 15 or 16-man squad because that gives you a sniff if someone does go down on the day.
“I think the competition has always been strong. Since Eoin took over as captain, the players he’s selected and had in and around his team have all been fantastic players, especially the guys that have been established.
“They know the quality of players below them and the guys coming through – the Roots, the Bantons, guys waiting in the wings, that drives them to keep pushing the boundaries. One thing Eoin always talks about is ‘keep pushing the boundaries’. That drives this team and it drives the fact that everyone has to perform when they get their opportunities.”
For the time being, Malan is content simply to be back in the South African sunshine, and resuming outdoor training for the first time since the end of the English season. And, with the prospect of a trial by pace when Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada line up for South Africa at Newlands next week, that has included plenty of time in the firing line against England’s own quicks, Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, who was named MVP at the recently concluded IPL.
“It’s awesome actually,” Malan said. “It’s so nice to get out of the cold and into some warmth. Especially here at Newlands, what a ground this is.
“For someone like myself who wasn’t at the IPL, not playing cricket for two months, it takes a little bit of time to get into it,” he added. “But getting back into the challenge of facing some bowlers is really exciting. You don’t enjoy it too much when you are having to face Jofra and Woody in the nets but it gets the heart going and the adrenaline pumping, which is what you want.”
The return to life in a biosecure bubble has not fazed Malan either – and the fact that South Africa’s preparations have been disrupted by a positive Covid test in their ranks has reaffirmed the importance of the precautions being taken.
“We have all the rules in place and we are sticking to them as the England squad,” he said. “We know how important being here is and this tour is. Anything that we can do to minimise the risk, we will make sure that we are doing. We can’t afford three or four people going down at this time of the tour.”
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