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Dawid Malan: 'You're judged on success, not how many big bombs you hit'

England's No. 3 on missing out on the World Cup final, and his ambitions to make the 50-over cut

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Dawid Malan constructed a brilliant century, Australia vs England, 1st ODI, Adelaide, November 17, 2022

Dawid Malan made a century against Australia in a rare opportunity in the ODI side this year  •  Getty Images

A penny for Dawid Malan's thoughts, an onlooker from the sidelines at the MCG in November, as a senior England batter marshalled a World Cup-winning run-chase against Pakistan with an unflappable 52 not from 49 balls.
The man in question, of course, was Ben Stokes - the Red Adair of England run-chases, air-lifted back into the T20I side after an 18-month absence and proving once again that his big-match temperament is second-to-none.
That match situation, however, could have had Malan's name all over it. A middling target of 138 to aim for, and loss of two early wickets affording the incomer the right and rationale to build cautiously into his work, as would have befitted a man with a proven, former world No.1-ranked, record at No.3 across 44 of his 55 T20I appearances for England.
But Malan himself was denied the perfect pay-off. His campaign was curtailed by a groin injury, picked up during England's tense group-stage win over Sri Lanka, and despite believing he'd done enough to be trusted for a recall in the final against Pakistan, it wasn't to be.
"It was tough," Malan tells ESPNcricinfo. "Initially we discussed that we were just going to treat the symptoms, but then on the day before the World Cup final, I ended up having a scan which I was not too happy about, because I was felt that I was okay.
"I did the fitness test and everything that was required, and I was able to get through everything that was asked of me in a two-and-a-half hour session, with just a bit of throbbing to some extent.
"But after the training session, when Jos [Buttler] and Motty [Matthew Mott] called me in, they said 'look, even though you've passed everything, there's still a risk'."
The issue, Malan adds, came down to the vast dimensions of the MCG, and the dangers of aggravating not only his niggle, but that of Mark Wood too - another key influence whom England opted to do without, despite appearing to overcome a hip flexor problem that had ruled him out of the India semi-final.
"If we were playing at a smaller ground like Bangalore, where you are not going to rely on running threes and twos and chasing down balls in the outfield, definitely it would have been worth the risk," he adds.
"But playing the MCG, when every run would have counted in a World Cup final … as a cricketer, you have to put your ego away sometimes, even though you're gutted at the decision. It's about winning the World Cup as a team, it isn't about putting your own personal pride in front of the team. Even though that's a tough pill to take, it is the right decision. We won the World Cup by not risking two players that were touch-and-go on fitness. The rest is history."
That history now shows that England are the concurrent 50- and 20-over World Cup champions, the first men's team to achieve such a feat. And while Malan was not involved in the epic 2019 campaign, he has been an integral member of the T20 team in between whiles, including the side that succumbed in the semi-final in the UAE 12 months before the MCG triumph - a campaign that he says came with significantly more expectation than the one just gone.
"The disappointment of losing that semi in 2021 was there for everyone to see," he says, recalling a penultimate-over loss to New Zealand in Abu Dhabi. "With what we had available as a team, we were gutted that we didn't win the World Cup that year, but I guess expectations probably weren't as high this time around. We obviously wanted to win, but I didn't think it would be realistic."
The reasons for such reticence were myriad. The retirement of Eoin Morgan had bled into a transitional summer in which England failed to win any of their four home white-ball series against India and South Africa, while injuries to key personnel - in particular Jofra Archer and Jonny Bairstow - meant they were far from being the frontrunners that had gone into previous ICC events.
"If we played as well as we could, we could definitely win, but after the summer that we had, I didn't think the pressure was on us as much as a team," Malan says. "Australia and India were in better form than we were.
"But it's been a long journey, from when Morgs took over in 2015, to where it is now with Jos and Motty as the leaders in the group. I was on the outside initially, watching how they went about their business, but they've stuck to their guns for seven years now. Everyone in the country has bought into that, and to win two World Cups in the last couple of years is incredible."
Nevertheless, you get the sense that Malan would have relished a touch more vindication for this own methods in the course of England's latest trophy-winning campaign. His tally for the tournament finished at 56 runs from 68 balls across three innings, including an ill-paced 35 from 37 that contributed to their rain-affected defeat against Ireland, and a cameo of 3 not out from one ball against New Zealand, after being shunted down to No.8 to make way for the perceived heavier hitters.
Despite some eye-popping feats in the course of his England career, including 1000 T20I runs in the space of a record 24 matches, and a 48-ball century against New Zealand in 2019, criticism has been a constant companion for Malan. Specifically, the perception that he tends to be slow out of the blocks.
In the course of his T20I career, Malan has made 30 scores of 30 or less, at a strike-rate of less than a run a ball (97.05). Once he's into his stride, however, few opponents can live with his acceleration - as evidenced by a strike-rate that soars to 165.56 on the 15 occasions that he's gone past fifty.
And it was this point upon which Mike Hussey, England's batting consultant, chose to dwell when presenting Malan with a cap to mark his 50th appearance during the World Cup. In particular, Hussey zeroed in on his "BASRA", which is no longer simply a port in Southern Iraq, but now a means of assessing a player by their "batting average [and] strike rate aggregated" - which in Malan's case is currently a lofty 174.55 (38.84 and 135.71), behind only Kevin Pietersen and Jos Buttler among England players.
"We're here to win games of cricket, not make the highlights reel. There's so many people that feel like, 'oh, you have to hit the ball 130 metres and get on Instagram'. That's irrelevant."
Dawid Malan
"It was the first time I'd heard of it," Malan admits. "But when you hear someone like that give you praise like that, it's an unbelievable feeling and gives you a lot of confidence.
"Batting at 3 in T20s is a tricky position," he adds, "because if you want to be positive and take it on in the first over of the game at 0 for 1, if you get out, you're 10 for 2, and you're probably not going to be scoring the 180 that you need to on that specific wicket. Then sometimes you walk in in the last over of the powerplay, or in the eighth over with all the fields out, and there's a different match-up to what you're used to.
"When you open the batting, you can play the same way every single game, it's the easiest thing to do, whereas there's a bit more responsibility when you bat at No. 3. Yes, I found that quite tricky at times, but I've had leaders like Morgs and Jos giving me the confidence to just play it as I see it, and that's massive for me because then I can shut out the criticism.
"There's always criticism, sometimes it's fair, sometimes it isn't, but we're man enough as players to hold our hands up when we get it wrong. Sometimes you feel it's the same topics over and over, no matter what you do, but all it is, is people looking at stats instead of looking at what's actually in front of you."
There is, however, one other stat that matters where Malan is concerned. More often than not, he ends up on the winning side - in 33 of his 55 T20I matches, in fact, or 60%, which places him second among England players with 50 or more caps, behind only the Player of the World Cup final (and star pick at the IPL auction), Sam Curran.
"We're here to win games of cricket, not make the highlights reel," Malan says. "There's so many people that feel like, 'oh, you have to hit the ball 130 metres and get on Instagram'. That's irrelevant. Your team is judged on success. You're judged on how many games you win as a player, not how many big bombs you hit.
"I'd much rather average 20 at a strike rate of 130 and win every game than hit a couple of good sixes at 160, and do nothing else. You don't win games of cricket like that."
He'll be getting plenty opportunities to hone his methods in the coming months. Despite a rare period of downtime in December, in which he enjoyed Christmas at home for the first time in five years, Malan is already back on the road. His first stop is a stint at Comilla Victorians in the Bangladesh Premier League, and then - later this week - he embarks on the start of the ILT20 in the UAE, where he will link up with his fellow World Cup winners Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes at Sharjah Warriors, not to mention his Yorkshire team-mate Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Warwickshire's Chris Benjamin.
"We've got a group of English guys and a few of the Afghani guys as well, so it's going to be brilliant," Malan says. "Any franchise tournament is fantastic. But with so many overseas players allowed in each team, that pushes the standard up so much more.
"It's an exciting time. The IPL investment [in the ILT20] means it's likely to have the biggest purse for players and attract the biggest names. And I guess that's ultimately what attracts players to different tournaments, how much they get paid to some extent, not only the brand of cricket and the conditions that you play in. It has the makings of being a fantastic tournament."
It could be another significant year for Malan too, with England's defence of the 50-over World Cup looming in India in the autumn. And while his ODI career has been restricted to just 12 appearances so far, he would appear to be in the right place at the right time, with Morgan's retirement and Stokes' withdrawal from the format creating openings, not just for new players but for experienced ones too. He responded with two centuries in his six matches in 2022, including a Player-of-the-Match performance against Australia in Adelaide, and believes his game is well suited for England's needs.
"It's a bizarre one," he says. "You're good enough to play T20 cricket but not for the 50-over team, but within this group and with players retiring there has been more of an opportunity. Hopefully I've taken those opportunities in the last few series, because it's something I want to be part of, I want to play in that 50-over World Cup, and I've had some good chats with Motty and Jos about moving forward."
And while Malan does not seem to harbour similar ambitions to regain his Test place, after the rigours of last winter's Ashes, he - like many others in the English game - has been a fascinated onlooker as Stokes and Brendon McCullum have set about reviving the team's fortunes with a heady mix of positive cricket and even more positive reinforcement within the dressing-room.
"That's unbelievable, isn't it?" he says. "It's fantastic to see how things have changed around and it just shows you what happens when leaders are confident and back their players to express themselves, instead of worrying about the media and the negative side of it.
"I guess that's what Eoin did in the 50-over cricket. He said 'these are the players I've identified and I back them to the hilt', and gave them a decent opportunity, whether the press or commentators agreed with it or not. It's amazing when players feel backed how often they go out and perform."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket