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DAWID MALAN - WISDEN INTERVIEW - JUNE 2019

over 4 years ago | Interviews

SMELLS LIKE TEAM SPIRIT

It’s almost halfway through the cricket season, and Middlesex have just arrived back on familiar soil after a weekend mini-break in Ireland.

“It was nice to get away from the cricket,” says club captain Dawid Malan. “We did the Guinness factory and we went to go watch a gaelic football game, and we had a couple of beers. It was more just a nice relaxed weekend, spending a lot of time with each other. A time to clear the mind and have a laugh and have some team bonding with the boys.”

Having played 23 out of a possible 26 days of scheduled first-class cricket – only a near-washout against Leicestershire prevented them from completing a full set – and reached the knockout stages of a List A competition for the first time in 10 years, you could say they’ve earned a rest too. And with the Seaxes’ in eighth place in what looks set to be a hotly contested Division Two promotion race, the hope is that the sojourn serves to reignite their challenge.

“Hopefully we can all click in the Championship after the break,” Malan says. “We still want to get promoted, we’re not happy as a team being in the second division and we feel we’re a good enough squad to be in the first division.

“The red ball has been a bit frustrating for us. We haven’t collectively put scores on the board and bowled sides out. There’s some guys that have put their hands up and produced some fantastic performances but we haven’t been able to do that collectively as a team.”

After three Championship games, attentions will turn to T20 cricket – or rather turn back to, with the purpose of Middlesex’s aforementioned Irish jaunt, ostensibly at least, having been to play a T20 against Leinster Lightning. The game was a cracker too, the Seaxes prevailing by five runs after posting 182. Nick Gubbins top-scored with 75.

“They were a very strong team and they pushed us down to the wire,” says Malan. “In an ideal world, it would have been nice to have had this game five or so days before the Blast, because now we go back to playing four-day cricket, but that was just how the schedule falls. It was just nice to get out there and play with the white ball and see where we were at. We played with a lot of young guys who haven’t really played much before and guys who have played before and are still finding their feet. It was a good opportunity for us to have a look at them.”

There is reason to believe something special could be afoot come Blast-off, with Middlesex buoyed not simply by their group-stage progression in the One-Day Cup, but a renewed sense of purpose in white-ball cricket, and a true acceptance of failure, a necessity in an increasingly risk-ridden format.

“The thing we took from the 50-over cricket is that we have to buy in as a team,” says Malan. “Before, when we lost a couple of games people would go back to playing the way they want to play and start looking after themselves which makes it tough to drive the team forward. The key thing is having the coaching staff back the way we play, instead of ‘if you get caught long-on you can’t play that shot again’. The coaching staff understand what we’re trying to do and understand that if we get it wrong, we get it wrong. It’s not ‘you’ve done it wrong and now we have to change it or you’re getting dropped’, it’s encouraging you to make mistakes and to try different things.”

As well being able to commit to their intended game-plans more fully, Middlesex also now possess greater clarity over what that game-plan is in the first place.

“The big thing about T20 is how we’ll structure our team,” Malan says. “Before we’ve gone in with four bowlers and having part-time bowlers to make it up. Hopefully this year we can go with five front-line bowlers, which could then be the difference between chasing 190 and 170. A lot of our bowlers can bat, but I wouldn’t say they’re top-seven batters. But when you’ve got AB de Villiers, Eoin Morgan, myself and Paul Stirling, it means that we have a strong top four. You’d be hoping that we score the bulk of the runs and the other guys can chip in.”

De Villiers is one of two shrewd, exciting overseas signings, picked explicitly to plug gaps in Middlesex’s rejigged line-up. The other is Mujeeb Ur Rahman, a teenage Afghan mystery spinner, who has quietly been the standout performer in a disappointing World Cup campaign for his country.

Having gone the distance in Afghanistan’s first two games, he was the only bowler to escape the carnage inflicted by future Seaxes team-mate Eoin Morgan against England, before bowling the tournament’s most economical spell to date against favourites India in a narrow defeat and chipping in with three wickets against Bangladesh.

His success has largely come at the top of the innings, unusual for a spinner, but also exactly the attribute that Malan is hoping to make use of. “When you sign a player, you know what role you have in mind for them. Mujeeb was signed with the intention of being able to bowl two to three overs in that first six overs and, hopefully, give us a bit more control.

“For us, just going on last year and the year before, we really struggled in that first Powerplay with the ball. We consistently leaked runs and we’ve always been up against it and always had teams score between 50 and 75 after those first six overs, but then from the seventh over to the fifteenth we drag it back nicely. If he bowls as well as he’s been bowling in this World Cup, then he’ll be a massive asset for us with that new ball.”

From a personal point of view, this year’s T20 Blast campaign could hardly be bigger for Malan. Some fancied his international chances had come and gone when he was dropped from the Test side mid-way through last summer, before he won a recall for England’s T20I series in the West Indies. Though he didn’t feature there, an ODI debut followed against Ireland, and while he didn’t win a World Cup call-up, next year will see a T20 World Cup take place in Australia.

It’s the format in which Malan made his bow and his name for England, cracking 78 off 44 balls against Imran Tahir and co. at Cardiff, and with the focus sure to switch to the shortest format once the World Cup concludes, the timing would be perfect for anyone who stands up and makes themselves known.

“For me, it’s about trying to score as many runs as I can now and if you get the call, you get the call,” says Malan. “The T20 World Cup is in Australia, I think, and my record in Australia has been pretty good across the T20s and the Tests [Malan made his maiden Test century at Perth, in 2017]. From that point of view, if I perform consistently over the next year and a bit then who knows, I could be pushing for a place in the squad.”

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