29th November 2020, Paarl, England and South Africa have engaged themselves a in a tight low-scoring contest when Dawid Malan strides out, with England still needing 122 runs off 96 balls. As is the norm, Dawid Malan takes his time, assesses the conditions and labours his way to 25 off 30 deliveries.
By then, the required run rate shoots up and England, who had seemingly been in the ascendancy, are now required to do the heavy lifting again. Yet, in his own inimitable manner, Dawid Malan strokes a few sumptuous boundaries through the off side, ultimately blazing away to 30 runs off the next 10 balls he faces. Normal service resuming, eh?
Post that encounter in Paarl, England have played 6 T20Is (1 against South Africa and 5 against India). For large swathes, they’ve backed Dawid Malan to bat the way he wants, which basically translates to a sluggish start before clicking into over-drive.
However, with the runs drying up, especially against India, Dawid Malan’s role has come under immense scrutiny. Not just because he has failed to muster the runs expected of him, but also due to his tendency to get dismissed after eating a significant chunk of deliveries.
To put things into further context, his first four innings against India included knocks of 24*(20), 24 (23), 18 (17) and 14 (17). On three occasions, he came out to bat in the Power Play, where he scored 18 (18) in the 1st T20I, 4 (6) a game later and 5 (8) in the 3rd.
During the same phase, the batsmen at the other end, namely Jason Roy (in the 2nd and 4th match) and Jos Buttler (in the 3rd fixture) scored 20 (17) and 33 (22) and 43 (17), respectively. Though it might be naïve to directly compare the aforementioned pair’s approach to that of Dawid Malan, it only highlights the massive discrepancy, which can put undue pressure on the other English batsmen.
Moreover, if Dawid Malan gets out while gauging the situation, it dents England’s charge considerably, for the rest of the players have to offset the deliveries lost earlier, while they also have to add further value – a situation that increases the amount of risk involved.
Dawid Malan's strike rate at the start of his innings isn't sparkling
As far as numbers are concerned, Dawid Malan has gotten out for a strike rate below 120, despite having faced 10 or more balls on 10 occasions, which is 41.66% of the time he has batted for England in T20Is. Though that tally stood at 6 before the 2nd T20I against South Africa at Paarl, it has zoomed to 10, considering his failure in the final T20I in the rainbow nation and the subsequent travails in India.
Additionally, Dawid Malan’s strike rate in the first 10 balls he faces is pretty abysmal, at least by the current English batting standards. While the rest of the incumbents, including Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Tom Banton and even Alex Hales, rattle along at a tick over 8 runs per over, Dawid Malan meanders along at a shade under 7 runs per over. That he still scores at an overall strike rate of 128.40 (in all T20 cricket) is a testament to his incredible ability to switch through the gears.
Having said that, there is no denying that Dawid Malan is relatively slow off the blocks and that trait gets highlighted a lot more when playing franchise T20 cricket. While the pitches certainly aren’t as good as on the international circuit, the lack of firepower has caused his sides to get stuck in the quicksand, despite looking primed for a huge total.
In the England ranks, though, that bit of lackadaisicalness is usually ridden over, courtesy the presence of Messrs. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. However, when the aforementioned troika isn’t at the races, Dawid Malan’s method amps up the stakes for the middle and lower order.
While the general tendency might be to term Dawid Malan’s lack of form as the primary reason for jumping the gun and terming his modus operandi untenable, that is far from the case.
In fact, even during his purple patch, there were a few quizzical glances around his strike rate at the outset. Somehow, though, he almost always saw his team across the line and ended with a strike rate in excess of 130. Yet, to expect it to sustain the rigours of international cricket seems a tad optimistic, considering bowlers will, at some point in time, evolve better plans to keep him quiet.
And, unfortunately for Dawid Malan, it seems that the Indians might’ve provided a template to the rest of the world.
Throughout the series, the Men In Blue opted to target the left-hander with spinners. While he aced that particular test in the final T20I, he was largely at sea during the other games. To place things into context, Dawid Malan was dismissed by a spinner on each occasion, barring the 5th fixture.
While he perished to Yuzvendra Chahal in the 2nd T20I when attempting the conventional sweep, he was bowled around his legs by Rahul Chahar in the 4th match when trying the reverse sweep. In between, he was also stumped by Washington Sundar, who lest one forgets, rarely gets stumpings.
More importantly though, when the bowlers bowled tight lines, Dawid Malan simply couldn’t come up with an answer. At times, he looked to release the shackles courtesy the sweep stroke. However, with the ball turning, he failed to do so, meaning that he ultimately succumbed.
And, even when he scored 68 off 46 balls, none of his boundaries came against spin. For the uninitiated, he scorched 9 boundaries to the fence while he found the stands on two more occasions.
Thus, with a T20 World Cup looming, that too on Indian shores, one feels Dawid Malan might have his task cut out. Though he has performed brilliantly so far and has barged his way into the Three Lions’ first-choice T20I setup, his proclivity to start slow might hamper him in alien conditions.
Not just because he isn’t the greatest player of spin on turning tracks (very few are, to be honest), but also because he seems to have a limited range of strokes against them. To add to all of it, he won’t be accorded as many opportunities to offset the lack of run-scoring in the early phase of his essay, considering batting gets tougher when the ball softens up.
If that isn’t enough, England have an embarrassment of riches when talking about top-order options. Against India, Liam Livingstone and Sam Billings were in the squad but unsurprisingly, failed to play a single game.
Joe Root, meanwhile, was tearing it up in the T20 Blast in England, whereas Alex Hales, despite not being in the England fold, has set the world ablaze over the past couple of years. And, there is one Jonny Bairstow who would be chomping at the bit to bat in the top order.
Hence, in lieu of the predicaments surrounding England, it might be best for them to use Dawid Malan as a reserve option, rather than hoping for him to shepherd England through a World Cup campaign. Nevertheless, it has opened a Pandora's Box for the Three Lions, as far as selection of personnel is concerned.
Though the dynamics might change drastically when the T20 World Cup is held in Australia in 2022, the fact remains that Dawid Malan’s high-risk, high-reward approach might have more demerits than merits, especially in India. Unless, of course, he is willing to tweak his style and become more proactive at the start of his knocks.
Back in November 2020, when Dawid Malan crafted another dexterous run-chase against South Africa, there were palpable murmurs that his method could just work, despite all the skepticism. Months later, though, those feared clamours have grown in volume and understandably so.
In simpler words, Dawid Malan remains a match-winner – one that can turn games on its head. Yet, does his method enable him to not become a liability when not on song? As things stand, the answer to the aforementioned could be in the negative.
Though it might sound ludicrous to even contemplate dropping the batsman who has accumulated the highest-ever tally of ranking points in T20I cricket, maybe, just maybe, that is the call that could define England’s T20 World Cup campaign.
Funny, isn’t it?