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Netherlands v England 2022

Strike rotation over strike rate – why Dawid Malan played the perfect hand alongside Jos Buttler

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

Ben Gardner argues why Dawid Malan’s innings against the Netherlands, criticised in some quarters for holding England back, was actually instrumental in their record-breaking total.

Dawid Malan is a player for whom praise, at times, has been hard to come by, and if he’s felt that’s unfair, then that’s understandable. His on-the-surface T20I excellence is undercut by criticisms of his slow scoring rate at the start of his innings, and his status as the No.1 ranked T20I batter in the world has hardly shielded him from criticism, something that clearly rankles.

“The thing that gets me the most about it all is this,” he told Wisden Cricket Monthly late last year. “Joe Root’s the No.1 ranked Test player in the world – because he’s an unbelievable cricketer – and it’s all bigged up, and rightly so. I’m ranked No.1 in T20 cricket and people are saying, ‘He doesn’t even deserve his place in the team’.”


In another era, Malan might have been heralded as one of England’s finest limited-overs batters. In this one, he has had to content himself with a bit-part role, always knowing that no matter what he’s done – and it has often been plenty – it will, at most, buy him just a brief stint before the pressure mounts again. With his hundred against the Netherlands, he became just the third England batter to make a century in all three formats, but when England are back at full strength in ODIs, he’ll surely be sidelined again.

Malan has always had his supporters as well as his detractors, but even yesterday there was a kernel of dissatisfaction among some evaluating his innings. Malan finished with the lowest strike-rate of any of England’s batters to score more than a single run. In the course of their partnership, which began with Malan on 86 and Buttler on 0, the latter overtook the former when reaching 114. On commentary, there was talk of a tactical retirement. Elsewhere, there were suggestions that Malan should hit out or get out. Malan had played his part in a record-breaking performance, and still not everyone was happy.

The idea that Malan should have thrown caution to the wind once Buttler arrived at the crease is ill-conceived for a few reasons. Firstly, Malan did speed up towards the end, scoring 86 off 79 (a strike rate of 108.86) before Buttler’s entrance and 39 off 30 (a strike rate of 130) after. But that’s not really why Malan’s knock was valuable. Malan might have been able to score more quickly towards the end of his innings than he actually did. Certainly, anyone who has seen him accelerate once set in T20 cricket wouldn’t have been surprised by a salvo of sixes flowing from his blade. But Malan raising his strike rate wouldn’t necessarily have helped England cross 500. When batting with a batter scoring as quickly as Buttler was, playing the foil can often be better than attempting to match them stroke for stroke.

If that seems counterintuitive, consider the following three theoretical batters. Batter A scores at a strike rate of 200 and never rotates the strike. Batter B scores at a strike rate of 133.33 and never rotates the strike. Batter C scores a single every ball they face (and so has a strike-rate of 100).

Now think about a partnership between Batter A and Batter B, and between Batter A and Batter C. In the first partnership, Batter A will score 12 runs for every over they face, and Batter B will score eight runs. Each will face half the balls in their partnership, and so will have a run rate of 10 runs per over.

In the second, Batter C will take a single off the first ball of each over, with Batter A scoring 10 runs off the remaining five balls, a run rate of 11 runs per over. It’s the partnership between Batter A and Batter C that is the higher scoring one, despite Batter C having a lower strike rate than Batter B.

While that’s a hypothetical example, Malan gave a good show of how it can work in practice. Once Buttler had passed 10, Malan faced just three dot balls, and was on strike for just a third of the 90 balls that the Buttler-Malan stand occupied. Partly, this is down to Buttler’s own retention of the strike, taking a single off the last ball of eight of the 15 overs the pair batted together. But on five of the six occasions Malan took strike for the first ball, he found a single, allowing Buttler to wreak havoc.

Buttler scored 139 off 60 balls during their partnership, a strike rate of 231.67. Say Malan had scored at a strike rate of 150, rather than 130, during his stand with Buttler, but faced half the balls rather than a third, while Buttler maintained the same strike rate. Then Buttler would have scored 104 runs and Malan 68 runs, a total of 172 between them. As it happened, the pair managed 178 runs off the bat between them in their stand.

Malan has been accused of selfishness before, by his captain Eoin Morgan, after Malan failed to run a last-ball single against New Zealand in 2019. “If we get guys that are not running off the last ball of the game because they want to get a not out, there’s something to address,” Morgan said. Morgan has since given Malan his full backing, both when speaking to the press and in picking his short-form sides, and, perhaps, innings like yesterday’s show why.

In white-ball cricket, selflessness is often synonymous with fearlessness, with a player being willing to sacrifice their wicket for the good of the team, to go for sixes rather than protect their average. But Malan’s selflessness against the Netherlands was of a different sort, showing he was able to rein himself in for the good of the team, even when there was fun to be had and runs for the taking. Far from being the reason England didn’t make it to 500, Malan played a key part in enabling Buttler to get them so close.

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