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South Africa v England

Dawid Malan’s high-risk approach is working – but is it sustainable?

dawid malan
Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read

Dawid Malan is the highest-ranked T20I batsman in the world, but Yas Rana asks whether his approach with the bat could come to hurt England.

Dawid Malan has been nothing short of exceptional in his T20I career to date. Since his debut in 2017 he’s been the recipient of the Player of the Match award in nearly a quarter of his appearances and, as you might have heard, he’s the No.1-ranked batsman in the world.

A T20 Blast behemoth who’s never played in the IPL, Malan has taken to T20I cricket like a duck to water. Initially only afforded opportunities when England rested senior members of their white-ball set-up in the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, Malan has batted his way firmly into England’s plans for next year’s T20 World Cup.

His record is extraordinary: an average hovering just below 50 coupled up with a strike rate of 144. But questions have always lingered around his approach, namely his slow starts. This may seem like merciless nit-picking but it’s worth remembering who he’s keeping out of the side: Joe Root the most naturally gifted England batsman of his era and more pertinently, England’s leading run-scorer in their 2016 World T20 final run.

Malan’s innings in the second T20I at Paarl perfectly encapsulated the conundrum. It was a match-winning innings: Malan’s 40-ball 55 helped guide England home in a tricky chase. However, things didn’t look too rosy at one stage.

On 25 off 30 in a chase of 147, Malan had eaten up 25 per cent of England’s available deliveries and contributed just 17 per cent of their required runs. If he got out off his 31st ball his innings, England’s lower middle-order would have required over 10 runs per over on a two-paced wicket, when the asking rate started at just 7.35.

As CricViz analyst Ben Jones explained earlier this year, the ‘issue’ with Malan isn’t that he scores slowly, it’s that he starts slowly. He has an impressive record thus far in his international career of being able to catch up, but the concern is, what if that record dips?

It would be a slight exaggeration to claim that the result hinged on whether Malan could retain his wicket and accelerate, but it wouldn’t be far from the truth either. In the end, Lungi Ngidi offered Malan just enough pace and width off the Yorkshire left-hander’s 31st delivery at the crease for Malan to cut him to the point boundary. He was on his way and he proceeded to accelerate spectacularly, blasting 30 off his next 14 deliveries.

Really though, England, with their enviable top six and quite frankly absurd lower-order depth – Adil Rashid, their No. 11 at Paarl, could bat in the top eight for most of England’s T20 World Cup rivals – shouldn’t be so reliant on one batsman, let alone their most inexperienced top-six batter on the international stage. When that batting depth isn’t there in a county or franchise side, it’s a totally understandable approach but with England, it appears an unnecessarily high-risk strategy. If Malan is dismissed in that period between 15 and 25 balls in which he has consolidated but not yet accelerated, it makes life considerably more difficult for his teammates. In a line-up as deep as England’s, a first-ball duck is almost always preferable to a 31-ball 25.

In this year’s IPL, KL Rahul was another who exhibited a cautious yet run-filled approach. He ended up as the competition’s leading run-scorer but there were occasions where his protracted slow starts potentially cost his Kings XI Punjab side – who missed out on the play-offs by a single win – the result.

The obvious counterpoint to all this is that Malan has hardly let his side down thus far and been ruthlessly consistent to date. It’s working for him and, more crucially, England. Yet in the last three years, Malan has been dismissed with a sub-120 strike-rate after having faced 10 or more balls on six occasions – a third of his innings. In the same time period, that’s something that Jonny Bairstow has done just twice and Jos Buttler and Jason Roy just once each.

You have to wonder whether Malan’s remarkable consistency will not only continue but hold up against full-strength attacks in the high-stakes environment of a global tournament. If England stick with him and he doesn’t sustain his excellence, it could prove more costly than the failures of another batsman.

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