The Dawid Malan conundrum – is he the best in the world or should he be dropped?

In his first effort with The Courier, Rory Law discusses one of the more controversial English cricket players

Rory Law
5th April 2021
Twitter @dmalan29
Usually, if someone is ranked number 1 in the world with a t20i batting average better than 50 and a strike rate of 144.31, his quality wouldn’t even come under question.

However, pundits are strongly of the opinion that he should be dropped, that Stokes or Root should replace him at 3, and that he doesn’t provide the right balance to the England setup.

Malan’s weak statistic:

T20 batting is incredibly based around intent. The standard of batting is very high and teams want to be scoring a strong 200 rather than a more careful 160, because anything is chaseable with the quality of hitting on offer. As such, you need a batsman who is able to start hitting from ball 1. Dawid Malan is not that batsman. After facing ten balls, Malan scores at 6.76 runs per over. In contrast, Jonny Bairstow scores at 8.71, and Jos Buttler, the second slowest of the top 3 batsmen used since 2016, is on 8.17 (see table below). This is an obvious concern, because Malan relies entirely on consistency, scoring very quickly after facing 20 balls, but you have to face those 20 first. Thus, if Malan suffers a dip in form it will be extremely damaging to the England side, chewing up valuable deliveries and not getting any value from them. Malan’s consistency and ability to score big after facing a few balls are useful, but with a cut-off target. It is damaging when chasing 200 to be on 11 off 10, forcing the other batsman to score more quickly than should be necessary

Strength in numbers (and wrists):

Simply, you can’t argue with his numbers. He’s played against 5 teams (Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and South Africa) and has excelled against them all. His swashbuckling style causes massive problems in the middle overs, and his ability to carve anything through the covers, even balls going down leg, is extraordinary. He has struggled the most against India out of these teams, still managing an impressive average of 32, but striking at just a shade over 120. Every batsman is allowed a lean period, especially in a format as volatile as t20, and Malan lacks the experience in India that every other member of the squad had. His skill is in timing, rather than brute force. He moves around the wicket with ease and picks out gaps, not often hitting sixes but when he does they are flat and hard. I have even heard the phrase “Wristageddon” used to describe his flamboyance. He’s reached a half-century 11 times in 24 innings, one of those being a hundred, and another being that magnificent 99* against South Africa, and that level of consistency is quite remarkable. These are all very strong credentials, and if this so-called “lean period” is still averaging 32, then that’s a batsman who England should hold onto, particularly given the more unpredictable natures of batsmen like Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan

The balance of the team:

Malan offers two key things to England’s top order. Firstly, he is the only player in the established top order who is left handed, providing a valuable balance and causing bowling attacks much more headaches. More importantly, he is an anchor (bafflingly, given his high strike rate). Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan are all highly explosive players, but this carries more risk. A team should have at least one anchor, potentially two in tough conditions, in case of collapse (look at Joe Root’s vital role in England’s ODI team). England cannot realistically afford to pick someone like Billings or Livingstone in place of Malan as a result, particularly looking to tournaments where you need long-term consistency to win trophies, you cannot have games where you score either 220 or 100. He scores supremely against legspin and slow left arm, weaknesses of Roy, so balances that threat out nicely too.

The rankings – are they accurate?:

Dawid Malan acts as a rare and curious example in that his record for England is miles better than his record for any domestic team. He averaged just short of 28 for Middlesex and averages less than 10 for his new county, Yorkshire. He disappointed in the Big Bash League this year, scoring at a slower rate than 120 and hitting only one 50 in the whole competition (see the table below). International rankings don’t measure that, and they don’t measure various things such as innings impact and opposition played. Malan started his career by effectively violating Ish Sodhi on small New Zealand pitches and rocketed up the rankings as a result of that. This created some doubt, but now that he has played all the major forces in t20 (minus WI, but they are very much a batting side), it becomes more difficult to argue with the stats. Yes, Virat Kohli or Babar Azam or Nicholas Pooran or Andre Russell are more desirable to have in your team, perhaps, but this t20 World Cup coming up will be a big test of whether Malan has that staying power on the biggest world stage, and his selection for the Punjab Kings in the IPL will be a similar test.

Dropping Malan would be horribly unjustified, he seemed to receive more criticism for his 68 (42) in the final t20i against India than anyone else, despite the fact that he top scored. I don’t fully understand the slander really, my best guess is that his slow starts with consistent strike rate increase isn’t as entertaining as watching Buttler and Roy chase big scores, and England’s bowling attack is sufficiently weak (as long as players like Tom Curran are picked) that these big scores are often required. The criticism here should not be levelled at Malan, because if everyone does their job then England win, and he does this far more often than not.

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