(Photo by Ryan Pierse / Getty Images)
By Chris Stocks
Dawid Malan is honest enough to admit that he was horribly out of form when handed his Test chance for England last summer. But the Middlesex batsman believes the work he has put in since will help him enjoy a successful Ashes series in Australia.
At 30, Malan is a latecomer to international cricket and although he produced a wonderful first impression when scoring 78 in his first England match – the T20 against South Africa at Cardiff in June – he struggled to follow that up when given his Test chance at No.5 later in the summer.
Exposed by South Africa’s attack after making his debut at The Oval, Malan scored just 35 runs in his first two Tests.
Easy runs were on offer against West Indies but Malan battled his own poor form to grind out two unbearably ugly half-centuries.
By summer’s end, Malan averaged 23.62 from five Tests. Although that was less than fellow Oval debutant Tom Westley’s overall average of 24.12 from the same number of matches, Malan made the cut for the Ashes tour while the Essex batsman did not.
Now he hopes to cash in on this opportunity, with the technical adjustments he has made to his technique since the summer evident in his first two innings on tour, both of which were half-centuries.
Andy Flower, head of the England Lions, was integral in helping him make those adjustments, with a more open stance allowing him to access his more natural scoring areas.
The runs he scored against a Western Australia XI in Perth and a Cricket Australia XI in Adelaide were evidence the re-setting of his technique will perhaps finally allow him to realise his potential.
“When I was picked last summer it coincided with a loss of form – it wasn’t ideal,” said Malan. “It just came at the wrong time in terms of where I was hitting the ball.
“Just before I got picked I lost a lot of rhythm in my batting and I kept trying harder and harder to find it. Little bad habits crept in and one of those was getting really, really side on. There were a couple of times against the West Indies where I got to 60 where I felt if I was playing well I probably could have pushed on.
“You just get into bad habits as you get along and you don’t really have that time in county cricket to go away for two weeks and work on your game. So, this last, sort of, month off it was nice to just go back and hit a few balls and do a bit of work with Andy Flower.
“You have setbacks and you have to find a way to succeed and contribute to the team whether you’re playing well or not. I managed to find a way in the summer and, hopefully, touch wood, the work I’ve done over the last three or four weeks can help me get back to batting fluently.”
Those technical flaws mean we have yet to see the best of Malan for England. “Apart from the T20,” he says. “In the Test matches I haven’t played as well as I can.
“But, hopefully, it all clicks, there’s a bit more freedom, if I’m picked for that first Test. The little habits I got into restricted me in some areas where I’m quite strong. It goes like that as a batsman. You don’t always feel good at the crease.
“There are scoring areas that feel quite natural to me and I lost those during the summer, whether that was off the hip or a drive, a cut, or whatever it was at the time.
“The shots that come naturally weren’t doing so at the time, which made it quite a battle.”
Malan is certain to bat at five for England come the first Ashes Test at the Gabba in 13 days’ time, his scores of 56 and 63 in those first two innings ensuring he will see off competition from Gary Ballance, dropped for the second tour match in Adelaide.
The fact Malan has been drafted into the slip cordon – stationed at third – for the first two matches in Australia is another sign he is in.
“I’ve been roped into that,” he joked. “It’s a different challenge and I think the more strings you can add to your bow and the more you can offer to the team makes you more valuable.”
Malan was born in Roehampton, south west London, but moved to Cape Town aged seven when his South African father, a dentist, decided to move the family back to his homeland.
Those South African links mean Malan has spent almost every winter there and, as a result, had never been to, let alone played cricket, in Australia before this tour.
“It’s my first time in Australia, yes,” he says. “It is unusual. But I grew up in South Africa and when you weigh up the options over a winter, going to South Africa with gyms, facilities and coaches that you work with is good.
“To come out here and almost go into the unknown, which I was doing in any case going to England, you’re out of your comfort zone. So, I felt it was right to go back and work with people I trusted and knew.”
That Malan now properly trusts and knows his own technique means this first trip Down Under could well be a successful one.