Middlesex’s Dawid Malan: ‘It’s always fantastic playing for England – that feeling will never die’
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It is November 2017 in Woolongabba, Brisbane in the tough, hot and fiery Australian state of Queensland.
There is a sellout at the Gabba cricket ground. Or as locals call it The Gabbatoir for it has long killed opposition hopes and players careers.
It is the first match of The Ashes. More than 30,000 Aussies in their fortress are baying for blood. Pommie blood.
The home county has a formidable Test match record at the ground. In the 55 previous matches played at the ground, Australia has won 33, drawn 13, tied one and lost only eight.
A cricketer can shrink in the noise, the heat, the pressure.
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Captain Joe Root is out lbw from Pat Cummins and England are 163-4.
Middlesex’s Dawid Malan walks out to bat with his place in the side on the line, perhaps even his Test career. All his hopes, dreams and ambitions depend on the next few balls. The next few minutes.
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Malan has been building himself a growing reputation more of a short form batsman, but with an average of a tad more than of 37 in the first class game he is talented enough to be picked for England for the longer form of the game.
After a five match audition at Test level in the summer of 2017 in which he performed adequately if not spectacularly against South Africa and the West Indies he found himself on the plane Down Under for the toughest tour.
His sporting future perhaps rests on the following passage of play at the Gabba.
Australian destroyer Mitchell Starc, a left arm fast bowler in the prime of his 27 years flies in to bowl at Malan.
As the crowd hurls abuse and invective at Malan and England the dangerous paceman from New South Wales bowls a yorker.
Malan is expecting Starc’s wicket-taking ball to arrive at his feet around the popping crease.
For a micro second there is silence – before Malan blocks emphatically.
The tension is punctured.
Malan proved in one ball he felt at home in the maelstrom of an Ashes series – a feat many never achieve in their lives.
The Roehammpton-born lefthand bat went on to score 56. England lost the match as they tend to do at the Gabba – by ten wickets in this case.
But Malan proved he had the temperament to survive in the rarified air of Test match cricket.
At the end of a gruelling series for Root’s side, Malan had scored 383 runs – more than any other England batsman – with his century at Perth one of only three hundreds from the disappointing visitors.
Speaking exclusively to the Islington Gazette he recalled that time saying: “For me personally it was a dream come true.
“You work your socks off to get to the opportunity to play international cricket and only a lucky few get that opportunity to experience it.
“When you get given that opportunity and you fail then there’s more pressure on you.
“So to go through that, and score a fifty at Brisbane and then score a hundred at Perth felt special.
“To sit down afterwards and to listen to the boys chatting and think – it’s all been worth it – every hour in the gym and the nets.”
That ton at the WACA came just before he was asked to become Middlesex captain.
With England 2-0 down and struggling, fortitude and courage were needed by English batsmen in the capital of Western Australia.
Malan was not found wanting and hit his first Test century, notching 140 runs.
He said modestly: “Luckily I’ve managed to take every opportunity I’ve been given and hopefully I can build on that.
“I’m by no means the finished article and I know I’ve got a hell of a lot of hard work to do. And hopefully that hard work will pay off again this summer.”
Which brings us to the first home Test against Pakistan at Lord’s next Thursday.
The 30-year-old has been picked in the England squad – who have recalled Jos Buttler as well as opting for the uncapped off-spin of Dom Bess. It is noticeable that James Vince, who batted at three for England in the southern hemisphere this winter, misses out in Ed Smith’s first match as a national selector since replacing James Whitaker in April.
Malan is quick to praise Middlesex while looking forward to a repeat of the club’s successful 2011 season, which saw them achieve promotion after an impressive summer. The fact they are in the second tier of the county championship is due to a disappointing season last summer which saw the 2016 champions surprisingly fall through the trapdoor.
Yet Malan is bullish. He looks forward to the Seaxes – and England – doing well this summer.
He says: “Middlesex gave me the opportunity and have backed me through some tough times and I owe Middlesex a lot. It’s a great club. A great family club.
“People involved with the club are fantastic. Gus [Fraser] runs it well and they look after you.
“It was a lot of hard work and we got promoted at the end of it from Division Two. A lot of things clicked and a lot of players clicked.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do it this year – but it’s not going to be as easy as people say it will be. Division Two is still a strong competition.
“The wickets could even the playing field out. But I do think we have the squad that if everyone is fit and firing that we can do something.
“It’s always fantastic playing for Middlesex and if selected it’s always fantastic playing for England – and that feeling will never die.”
Nor will the memory of that half century in the bearpit of the Gabba which proved to the world Malan has the temperament and talent to play for the England Test side for long time.
England squad for first Test
Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (capt), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Dominic Bess.