Unpopular Opinion-Dawid Malan

Updated: Feb 19

I know, I know. Dawid Malan should be in the England t20 side. After all, he is the number one IT20 batsmen in the world (an article about the meaningless nature of ICC rankings will appear one day). I even picked him for our Inside Edge picks piece, which you can read here, and am fully aware he is well supported, and rightly so, as you can read in David's brilliant piece here (and I recommend you do, to compare our arguments). But, I'm not fully sold yet...

Before I get going though, this is not a piece about how Malan is actually rubbish and should be nowhere near the England side. He is very good, and I'm not saying he should be dropped, or that he will fail. The point of this article is to express my doubts-in the hope I'm wrong. These are primarily around two factors: his small amount of IT20s played, and his slow starts. I discuss these, before moving on to some of the points in David's defence of Dawid.

My main issue with Malan is that he has only played 16 IT20s. This, in my view, is not enough to judge a player. I don't have a number that is enough, and acknowledge that, for some, 16 games is enough to back him fully. However, there are numerous examples of players seemingly being brilliant, only to fade away.

One of these examples is Malan himself. In his first 10 tests, Malan scored five 50s and a 100 at an average of 35.75. His next five saw just one 50, and an average of 16.8. As we all know, test cricket and t20 cricket are hugely different formats, but Malan started both his IT20 and test careers with an impressive start. Then, he dropped off in tests. Now I don't think he'll drop off in IT20s as well, but it is more of a possibility than we perhaps realise, and explains some of my doubts about him.

Another example, especially pertinent given the subject matter is a top order English IT20 batter with a good start to their IT20 career, is Joe Root. Root, who has played 30 IT20s, averaged 40.3 in his first 20, with 38% of innings at a strike-rate of 140+. After the 2016 World T20, he passed 50 just once in 12 matches, with only 8% of innings at a strike-rate of 140+, and this is despite an average of 37.4 in those final 12!

Players can lose form, be it average or strike-rate, and Malan's 16 IT20s is not a big enough sample size yet. Statistics rely on a large sample size, as the larger it is the truer to the expected result. After ten tests, Sachin averaged 33, after 200, it's 53! I'm not saying that after he's played another 10 IT20s Malan will be awful, but that I want to see more before I'm fully convinced.

The other issue with Malan having only played 16 IT20s is the question of is it a full representation of his t20 record. He has played 210 t20s, with an impressive average of 33.01, but a strike-rate of just 128.6. While these stats are skewed by Malan starting his career when t20 was new, and scoring rates lower, his recent domestic t20 tournaments show a more mixed record:

In his four matches in the 2020 t20 Blast, Malan made 36 runs in 43 balls.

In the 2020 PSL, Malan was better, with 131 runs in four games, at a strike-rate of 142. In the 2019/20 BPL, Malan (despite five single-figure scores), made 444 runs in 11 games, with a strike-rate of 149.

The 2019 Blast saw Malan make 490 runs in 14 games, with a strike-rate of 147 In two matches in the 2019 PSL, Malan scored 39 runs in 41 balls.

These scores show a mixed-bag. Malan had three very good tournaments, but struggled in two. I'll be interested to see how he performs in the BBL for the Hobart Hurricanes, especially as he has struggled when not consistently playing (as most players do), and will miss the start of the BBL.

Malan is often criticised for slow scoring. This isn't fair-he scores at a strike-rate of 146, above 140, the acceptable benchmark for the best players. My critique comes of his slow starts. Take, for instance, his 66 off 43 in the first IT20 against Australia a few months back. England won a surprising two-run victory after Australia failed to take 39 off 36 with nine-wickets left! Malan was granted the man-of-the-match award. I'm not saying this wasn't a good innings, but it wasn't an innings that fits with England's style of t20 cricket. Let me explain:

In t20 cricket, there are two approaches. Go for it, and risk limping to 120, but with the aim of 220. Or, build a platform, and the look to explode in the final few overs-looking for 180, but with 140 guaranteed. England's approach is to look to reach 220. They come out the blocks hard, and this philosophy is the reason Buttler opens-to get the most out of the most explosive batter.

Malan is an anchor. In this innings of 66, he came in it 43-1 after four overs, with Jos Buttler flying on 34 off 17. After 12 overs, England are 92-4, with Buttler, Banton and Morgan having all holed out trying to up the rate. Malan, is 26 off 23. See the issue? From here, Malan does great; he drives England up to a score, making 40 off his final 20 balls.

The rest of the IT20s this summer showed a similar story:

1st, v Pakistan- Malan makes 23 off 23 2nd, v Pakistan- Malan goes from 21 off 17 to 54* off 36, helping Eoin Morgan take England home.

3rd, v Pakistan- 7 off 8 for Malan

1st, v Australia- 26 off 23 to 66 off 43 2nd, v Australia- 32 ball 42, having been 15 off 15; useful support for Buttler 3rd, v Australia- 21 from 18

While Malan is well suited to provide support for an in batsmen (as Morgan in 2nd v Pakistan and Buttler in 2nd for Australia show), his slow starts mean it relies on another batter hitting it really well to keep at the rate. When chasing at 7/8 an over, this isn't an issue, but when needing to set a big score, or go at 10 an over in a chase, Malan doesn't fit the bill, only putting more pressure on other bats.

In his defence, David wrote about the IPL, and the fact Malan hasn't played there. Anyone critiquing Malan for this is wrong. Whether or not a player has an IPL contract is irrelevant. Adil Rashid, England's best ever white-ball leggie, has never been picked for the IPL! The IPL is the highest standard of t20 cricket going, but there are various reasons behind selection, and arguing against Malan for this reason is wrong.

I would, however, question David's examples of players scoring rates in comparison to Malan. He notes Babar Azam's strike-rate being 16 lower than Malan's 146, but I would argue (another bad opinion incoming) that Azam scores too slowly! While Morgan, as he points out, only scores at 138, he has played IT20 since 2009, when rates were a lot slower.

Furthermore, since the start of the 2019 English summer, Morgan has played 13 IT20s, and in only three innings has he scored at below 140, with his overall strike-rate in that period being 183. Malan, who has played in 11 IT20s in that period, has had a strike-rate of under 140 six times, and his overall strike-rate has been 134.

While Malan's career strike-rate is good, comparison with Morgan is not.

David hits the nail on the head looking at the challenges England, and all t20 sides face. Australia, have Warner, Finch, Stoinis, Smith, Phillipe, who all need to be in the top three. India with Dhawan, Sharma, Rahul, Kohli, Iyer, Shaw, who all need to be in the top three. England, are no different, with Roy, Bairstow, Buttler, Malan, Root, Banton, and maybe even Stokes, all wanting to be in the top three.

While Root may still have a role to play (especially with an over of spin if Ali is dropped), his slow rate puts him out of the picture for now. Buttler, although a brilliant finisher, has an even better record opening. That leaves Bairstow and Roy, England's two phenomenal ODI openers, with Roy, then Bairstow, at two and three. Malan, given his slow starts, needs to be early in the order, so he can come in early, but shifting Buttler, Roy, or Bairstow down is difficult.

Since the Inside Edge picks piece the other day, I've shifted on this, and think England should go: Roy, Bairstow, Malan; as the top three, with Buttler, Morgan, and Stokes floating around the order. However, England's top-heavy options is not a reason to disregard Malan, especially given his record.

Finally, this paragraph in David's piece that shows why Malan is in the side, and, as long as he continues to score, should be::

'...Malan has had the greatest batting impact for England in T20 internationals since 2016, he also has the 2nd lowest false shot percentage (behind Jos Buttler) since 2018. He scores at 8.30 runs per over against pace with an average of 117.66 and at 9.62 runs per over against spin with an average of 34.22...'

If Malan keeps going at 8/9 runs per over, then he will rightly be in the England side. My concern, and this is not to say he shouldn't be in the side, just that I'm wary, is that what if he reverts back to his domestic record after playing more? What if he keeps starting slowly? 16 IT20s isn't enough of a sample size, so, for me, it is too early to see him as the first name on the team sheet, even though he still makes my 11.


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