England’s new batting hope talks about his struggle to reach the top ahead of the Test series in New Zealand.
Dawid Malan admits he doubted whether he “belonged” in Test cricket before his breakthrough Ashes series, in which he finished as England’s top run-scorer.
The 30-year-old had a tough baptism of fire at the top level, having his stumps demolished by a Kagiso Rabada yorker on debut at The Oval last July and scoring just 35 runs in his first four innings against South Africa. He fared a little better in the series against West Indies that followed, making two hard-fought half-centuries, but there were still doubts about his suitability for Test cricket, not least in his own head.
WICKET Malan bowled by a vicious yorker from Rabada
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 27, 2017
“When I got picked for The Oval I thought, ‘I don’t think I should be playing Test cricket’,” Malan tells John Stern in a candid interview in the latest issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly. “If it had been a one-day or Twenty20 match I’d have walked straight in and done my thing. But there was this little bit of self-doubt that I didn’t really belong in Test cricket.”
Malan expected to be dropped after struggling against the Proteas and questioned the judgement of the selectors when he was retained to face the West Indies: “Do these blokes really know what they’re doing?! But I was extremely grateful to them and to Trevor [Bayliss].”
A dogged innings of 61 from 186 deliveries in testing conditions at Headingley proved a turning point, even if Malan was still some way short of his best. It gave the recently appointed Middlesex skipper the confidence that he could tough it out in Test cricket, and prosper when he rediscovered his fluency. “I told myself that if I could play badly and scrape to 50s and 60s then, wow, what’s going to happen if I actually play well?”
That was clear for all to see in Australia, as Malan dug in bravely against the quicks and played Nathan Lyon as well as anyone, scoring 383 runs at 42.55, including a maiden century in Perth and three fifties.
As England prepare to take on New Zealand, in a two-Test series beginning in Auckland on March 22, Malan is now a vital cog in a shaky batting line-up.
It’s been a struggle to get to this point though, with Malan spending more than a decade on the county circuit waiting for international recognition. In a wide-ranging interview, Malan reveals his frustration at continually being overlooked for England’s limited-overs teams, conceding he was close to throwing the towel in.
He recalls a conversation with England Lions head coach Andy Flower on a bus during the inaugural North v South series in the UAE in the lead-up to last season. “He asked if I was disappointed not to be picked and I said I was extremely peed off,” Malan says. “I said I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. I asked him if I was wasting my time there [in the North-South Series]. I’ve been overlooked for years and I’ve just been overlooked for the Lions – what am I doing here?”
Flower told Malan that Andrew Strauss, director of England cricket, had placed great store by this North-South series, one of his pet projects. “He said, ‘The way Straussy’s been talking about it, if you do well you’ll get looked at’.”
Malan excelled on the tour and was finally rewarded with a senior call-up for the T20I series against South Africa last summer, smashing 78 from 60 balls on debut in Cardiff and convincing Trevor Bayliss he had enough about him to warrant Test selection.
It’s one gamble that England’s under-fire selectors will be pleased they took.
To read the Dawid Malan interview in full, you can buy your copy of Wisden Cricket Monthly here